I’m hitting the road to cover the Cats’ SEC away games! As part of my adventure, I will rate each venue on atmosphere, food, crowd…you name it, I’ll rate it. I’ve come up with 20 criteria, each of which I will judge on a scale of 1 to 5 for a possible high score of 100. First up, Vanderbilt’s Memorial Coliseum.
I’m sick of writing about Memorial Gym. It’s weird, hot (no AC), and vaguely smells of feet. Which is exactly why I must power through and give the “venerable” arena the judgment it deserves. Let’s go!
Seating capacity: 14,316
Nothing out of the ordinary here, just your standard sporting event fare of Papa John’s, hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, and peanuts. And of course, popcorn. Aside from the normal concession stands, there are kiosks throughout for frozen lemonade and Dippin’ Dots which didn’t seem to get much play. Does anyone still eat Dippin’ Dots, by the way?
One of my favorite foods is movie popcorn. I could seriously live off of the stuff. Sometimes, I’ve considered going to the theater just to buy it and then leave. Therefore, I will rank each venue’s popcorn for butter levels, saltiness, and greasiness. Vandy’s popcorn was salty and delicious, but not transcendent. Since it didn’t leave me wiping my hands every five seconds like some, I’ll give it a respectable four.
Signature food: 5
Every good venue has a signature food item. The Milwaukee Brewers have the bratwurst, the Reds the Skyline Cheese Coney, and the Padres the fish taco. Vandy had stands set up throughout the arena with homemade brownies and cookies for $2 each. The best part? They handed out free samples. You know I broke me off a piece of that.
Obviously I can only speak to the women’s bathrooms, and Vandy’s were decent. I was up in “Crow’s Nest” above the third level, and since there are no bathrooms on the third level, I had to go down to the second, but there were plenty of stalls. I wisely avoided the halftime rush, which is a rookie mistake for any sports fan. Public restrooms are a beast all their own, but I didn’t leave gagging, which in my view, is a win. They also get kudos for using automatic paper towel dispensers instead of hand dryers, which, while eco friendly, are the bane of my existence. Unless they’re the fancy Dyson ones, they simply don’t do the job. Right, Kige?
Vandy put in a brand new scoreboard over the summer, and I must say, it was impressive. It hung in the middle of the arena with a large jumbo tron screen on each side. The screens showed instant replays, promotions, and of course, the popular “kiss cam” crowd shots (more on that later). There was a ribbon board underneath the screens to display the score and stats, but in my opinion, they didn’t show the stats enough. I found myself searching for a player’s scoreboard like they have at Rupp and other venues, which is why I took off a half point. But, one thing is for certain: Vandy’s new scoreboard puts UK’s Big Bertha to shame.
PA System/announcer/music: 4
The PA announcer was fine, neither amazing nor super annoying. The music was an interesting mix of hardcore rap and bizarre contemporary easy listening that sounded like it came from Cal’s collection. But, there was enough to keep me chair boppin’ up in the Crow’s Nest, including some much-appreciated Jock Jams. The only exception was when they played the “Chicken Dance” during the Kids’ Cam segment…are we at a basketball game or a 1980’s wedding, people? Also, what does the Chicken Dance have to do with kids?
Fun stuff: 3
As I mentioned earlier, Vandy has a new scoreboard and they’re really proud of it. They used it for several things, including a “Kids Cam,” “Kiss Cam,” and the semi-insulting “Hair Cam,” in which they scanned the crowd and focused on the people with the wackiest hair. Sadly, Jon Hood didn’t make the trip, or his #lakehairdontcare would surely have beaten out the guy with the mohawk mullet in the Vandy band.
Pep band: 3
Nothing amazing, but they did have a fun version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” which I always enjoy even if others don’t. I may be mistaken, but they even played Kentucky’s fight song once or twice, or something very similar to it.
Halftime show: 4
“Quick Change” was all I expected it to be and more. It was a magic show performed by a man and a woman who basically, changed their clothes very quickly. Their website describes it as “flashing costume transformations which happen in fractions of a second.” They’re a regular on the college basketball halftime circuit and have been featured on “America’s Got Talent” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” I was impressed.
As we’ve mentioned all week, Vandy handed out replicas of their SEC Tournament Championship ring to the first 1,000 people in the door. Haha, yes, Vandy, we get it. You beat us in the SEC Tournament and Kevin Stallings cried happy tears into his tacos. I looked at one and it wasn’t even a ring, just a poorly painted paperweight. I saw several Vandy fans examining theirs in the stands trying to decide if it was worth putting on their desks or not.
Ticket price: 4
According to Ticketmaster, you can get a ticket to a Vandy SEC game for only $29. Not bad. Or, for any game other than the Kentucky one, you can get one for $10 off a scalper outside.
They wanted it to look like an opera house. It doesn’t really, but it’s better than Rupp’s warehouse-esque facade. I’m not asking for the Sydney Opera House or anything, but a little more glass and a little less brick would have helped its cause.
Much has been said about Vandy’s strange court, which was designed to resemble a stage. It’s cumbersome as a player or coach, but it does provide a unique viewing experience. The bunting to create a drop ceiling is a bit much, but I did like the giant floor-to-ceiling length player murals. They might want to cut back on the number of stars they use throughout…at times, it looks like a kid’s bedroom ceiling.
This is where the opera house design went horribly wrong. In order to get to each concourse, you half to walk through a series of hallways that wind their way around the floor. It’s essentially a labyrinth that becomes gridlocked once the game is over. I was in the Crow’s Nest press box atop the third level and it took me and my fellow media members at least fifteen minutes to navigate from the top of the arena down to the court because of the cattle-esque crowd flow. There’s no real way to avoid this, unless you’re like Larry Vaught who left the press box with eight minutes left to get down to the media room to beat the rush.
Very nice people, but not as stately as Rupp’s ushers. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something about those blue blazers that a “Guest Services” green polo can never match.
Press area: 2
I can only speak for the Crow’s Nest press box and the visitor’s media area, but it sucked. The Crow’s Nest was hot, hard to get to, and you literally had to perch on the end of your chair to see the entire floor. Also, not to sound like a total baby, but the visitor’s side of the Crow’s Nest didn’t have any bottled water, which combined with the fact that there is no air conditioning in Memorial Gym, made for a sweaty night. Proof it’s bad? Alan Cutler reportedly refuses to go up there anymore, presumably because there’s not proper ventilation for his flatulence. Once I got down to the media rooms near the court, it was much better. They were even begging us to take the leftover Cokes.
Press meal: 4
I missed it, but apparently it was Chick-Fil-A. I won’t make that mistake again.
BBN Effect: 5
Blue definitely got in. The consensus in the press box was that this may have been the biggest showing of UK fans in Memorial in recent memory, including last year’s Gameday/Occupy Memorial turnout. As usual, Ashley Judd was in the house, and even peeked her head in during Cal’s press conference. The BBN represented, with several “Go Big Blue” chants throughout (I counted four). They even drowned out Vandy fan’s boos when the Cats took the floor. Towards the end of the game, Vandy’s crowd was loud, but the roar from the Kentucky contingent when Harrow sank that three with four minutes left was deafening.
I give Vandy a lot of crap, but their campus is beautiful. It’s as green as the money that paid for it. Memorial Gym is located on the edge of campus next to the football and baseball stadiums. It’s surrounded by fraternities and sororities, which were just as quiet as you would imagine on a Thursday night at Vanderbilt.
Overall atmosphere: 4
Is Memorial Gym weird? Yes. Is it hot? Yes. Would I want it to be my home arena? No. But, is it a unique venue to watch basketball in? Definitely. Based on the sheer absurdity of the layout, and the alleged “Memorial Magic,” I’ll give it a solid four. A definite stop on any SEC fan’s bucket list.
Total score: 71.5/100