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Behind Enemy Lines: Bud Walton Arena


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Over the past few seasons, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover some of UK’s SEC road games for KSR. Along the way, I’ve also been reviewing the venues across the SEC, and last week, I visited Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena for the first time. Before I give you my thoughts, here are my past reviews:

Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium
Auburn Arena
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena
Florida’s O’Connell Center
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum
Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum


Bud Walton Arena

Built: November 29, 1993
Capacity: 19,368

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Exterior: 4

Bud Walton Arena, nicknamed the “Basketball Palace of Mid-America,” was built in 1993 thanks in large part to a very generous donation from James “Bud” Walton, the co-founder of Wal-Mart. Walton gave the school $15 million — half of the total cost — to build the arena in hopes of making the Razorbacks a real competitor in the SEC. The arena features a brick facade with a glass atrium on the south side. It’s not as stunning as some SEC gyms I’ve been to, but the brick pattern is unique.

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Interior: 4.5

The goal when designing Bud Walton Arena was to put more seats in less space then the Razorbacks’ former gym, Barnhill Arena, which held 10,000. As a result, even though the capacity of the arena is 19,000+, it feels cozy, much less cavernous than Rupp Arena. There are 47 luxury suites in the area just above the lower arena, each with an inside seating area and an outside seating area. Near the entrance is a museum dedicated to the school’s various sports programs and a merchandise store.

One major plus at Bud Walton: all of the seats have chair backs and are padded.

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Flow: 4

Throughout the main concourse are giant murals featuring special moments in the program’s history, each of which serve as a great backdrop for selfies, as does this display:

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(That’s the happiest Dusty Hannahs looked all night.)

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Concessions: 5

This is where Bud Walton shined. In addition to standard concession stands, there were several premiere food stands, serving everything from Prime Rib sandwiches to gourmet grilled cheeses. At the Grilled Cheesery, you can get a Grilled Tomato Florentine sandwich for $6, or at Chef’s Razorback Carvery, you can get a Prime Rib Quesadilla for $10. There was also a Chick-Fil-A stand, which understandably had the longest line.

Standard hot dog price: $3

Popcorn: 3 (incomplete)

I got so distracted by the taco bar in the media room (more on that later) that I totally forgot about the popcorn, so I’ll give it the industry standard 3 points.

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Signature food: 5

Appropriately, the signature food at Bud Walton Arena seemed to be pork in all sorts of variations. For $8, you can get a “Hog Dog,” which is a hot dog topped with Rowdy Dow pulled pork. What is Rowdy Dow? According to their website, they’re America’s BBQ, so it must be good. For $9, you can get a “Sooie Sundae,” which, as you might guess, is a pork sundae: “layers of BBQ pork and mashed potatoes in a parfait glass topped with BBQ sauce, bacon, and chives.” That sounds both disgusting and delicious to me.

Arkansas loves BBQ so much you can even get BBQ seasoned popcorn, but why mess with a good thing?

Bathrooms: 4

Nothing groundbreaking. Clean and spacious.

Scoreboard: 5

Bud Walton Arena’s new scoreboard is big and beautiful and, unlike its predecessor, does not hold the ball that Aaron Harrison flung in the air at the end of Arkansas’ upset in 2014. The new $4 million scoreboard is made up of four flat screens and resembles a smaller version of the famous scoreboard at Cowboys Stadium. It would look really pretty in Rupp Arena next season.

PA System/announcer/music: 3

Other than the PA announcer pronouncing Skal’s last name “La-brassiere,” nothing noteworthy. Like Alabama, the student section had a DJ, which was cool. During the intro, fans were encouraged to turn on their cell phones so the screens lit the arena, a neat touch:

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Fun stuff: 4

There were lots of giveaways, including gift cards to a local optometrist that dropped from the rafters via little parachutes.

Pep band: 4

Good blend of old favorites and new stuff. It wasn’t part of the band, but I was a huge fan of “Boss Hog,” the inflatable mascot:

Halftime show: 3

Quick Change, again. I lost track of how many times I’ve seen the duo perform, and honestly, their act gets stranger and stranger as the years go by. People seem to really enjoy it, though. Here’s their act at a Milwaukee Bucks game a few years back:

Souvenirs: 3

Free t-shirts to promote the white out.

Ticket price: 3.5

Single-game tickets range from $15 to $25, pretty decent prices when compared to Kentucky’s.

Ushers: 5

No complaints, nice and helpful.

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Press area/meal: 5

Taco bar with all the fixins, TWO different types of salad, cookies, and popcorn?! Arkansas treats its media right.

Student Section: 3.5

The student section is mostly behind one of the baskets, and the students were pretty loud. “Calling the Hogs” (“Woo Pig Sooie!”) was just as cool as everyone told me it would be:

Hell hath no fury like fans scorned, and the crowd went after the refs repeatedly, to the point the trio of officials had to get a police escort off the floor at halftime. Let it be known that Arkansas fans sure love to cuss.

BBN Effect: 2

There weren’t a ton of UK fans at the game, likely because of the winter storm and the fact that Arkansas is very far away; however, the fans that were there were loud. Props to them, including Tyler Ulis’ dad, who I don’t think sat down the entire game.

GBB chant count: 3

Campus/town: 4.5

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what to expect from Fayetteville. I was pleasantly surprised by the charming little college town tucked into the Ozarks. The downtown is small, but had plenty of bars, restaurants, and quirky shops within walking distance of campus. It’s very hilly, and more than once, I was grateful that the snowstorm didn’t hit that part of Arkansas because driving around the curves and tall bridges on I-49 would have been a nightmare.

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I had lunch on Friday at Hugo’s, a hole-in-the-wall diner in the basement of a building downtown. My soup and salad were delicious, as was the Ozark IPA I tried out. The place was packed, clearly a popular lunch spot.

Arkansas’ campus was nicer than expected as well. The football stadium is clearly the focal point of not only the campus, but the town, an enormous structure that dominates the landscape. I’d love to come back and see Fayetteville during the fall for a football game, I’m sure it’s crazy. On Friday, I traveled to Bentonville — home of Wal-Mart — to watch Malik Monk play, and was floored by the Crystal Bridges Art Museum, which I’ll write more about in tomorrow’s wakeup post.

Overall atmosphere: 4

As Kentucky fans, I feel like we have a kinship with Arkansas fans because, unlike the rest of the conference, they’ve got a proud basketball history and care about the sport. For that reason, I went in to Bud Walton Arena with high expectations, which were mostly met. The arena is impressive, and, as always, made me yearn for an upgraded one of our own. The Arkansas fans I encountered were nice, albeit very vocal when it came to the refs. Had the game been a little closer, I’m sure the atmosphere would have been even crazier.

Total score: 79/100

Previous scores:

Auburn Arena: 84/100
South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena: 77.5/100
Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum: 76.75/100
Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum: 75.5/100
Florida’s O’Connell Center: 74/100
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium: 71.5/100
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum: 69/100
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum: 68.5/100

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

22 responses to “Behind Enemy Lines: Bud Walton Arena”

  1. BUCats

    Great article Mrs. TT! Love the series and UK could really pick up some things by looking in their own conference.

  2. serdi

    The very best basketball venue ever in the SEC sits on the Avenue of Champions (Euclid Ave). Memorial Coliseum in it pre-1979 configuration was the best college basketball venue period.
    Perfect acoustics, shooting background, etc.

    For all of us old enough to have witnessed a game there before the university destroyed it to its current state, they will tell you, it was the best. It is sad they ever moved out.

    I can’t watch a game in Coliseum today, seeing how the grand old lady was butchered.

    1. RealCatsFan

      serdi, being that I’m just a young whippersnapper at 50, I have not experienced Memorial back when the Cats played there. Sounds like you were there for some of the best times. Can you elaborate on what was changed, and what made it such a great venue back in the day?

  3. Kizzy

    Now that was a great, and informative article! Nice job.

  4. Jpcat15

    I don’t understand the constant bashing of Rupp Arena by the KSR staff. They always seem to forget that when comparing it to Bud Walton or Allen Fieldhouse that we have 4,000 more seats. It is tough for those 4,000 seats to be great seats. If we only had a 19,000 seat arena, the seating would be comparable to those arenas. I have been to 3 games at both of those arenas, and I assure you the game experience at Rupp is as good or better than those arenas. Also, what is the infatuation with a huge scoreboard hanging in the middle of the arena? The scoreboards and video screens at each corner of Rupp are fantastic and easy to see from anywhere in the arena. I think they tend to forget the coolest part of Rupp Arena compared to other venues and that is the incredible atmosphere in the attached shopping center and hotel bars and lobbies. Just ask Dick Vitale, he constantly talks about how great the atmosphere it is at a UK game due to this.

    1. RealCatsFan

      Good point JPcat. One thing that always puzzled me is that all of the shops, bars and restaurants seem to close down shortly after the game starts. If they stayed open for an hour or so after the game it would seem like an opportunity to pick up some extra business from fans who want to wait for traffic to clear.

    2. CrazyCayts

      I would trade a few thousand crappy bench seats to have as nice of an area as dare I say, The YUM! Center. I cant stand Louisville be I have to admit that arena is one of the nicest in the country. It makes it hard for us to have one that nice seeing that we cant serve alcohol at UK games so installing premium bar areas would only benefit concerts and other events. Rupp is historic but needs a facelift for sure; and maybe with a renovation, our lack luster atmosphere will improve.

    3. CATandMONKEY

      Rupp is in need of a serious renovation. It is a barn with great tradition and seating capacity. It is a great atmosphere for BIG games it is weak for lesser opponents. I don’t need luxury amenities but we need to compete for the future in revenue and luxury boxes help in that area. Chairback seats are a must.
      Have attended at least 50 games there and have sat anywhere from second row lower to top row upper. It will always be Rupp and UK but as the world moves forward we cannot afford to NOT be the premier venue in college basketball.

    4. CATandMONKEY

      Crazy, as much as I hate to admit it, The Yum! is an awsome arena. It hurts to say that. Alcoh sales need to be negotiated with the league, not so much for revenue but for fan satisfaction and atmosphere
      . Adults should be able to have a few beverages if the so choose.

  5. Angelo

    Who cares? Next game

  6. CatManDo

    Just curious what your rating of Rupp would be if you did an unbiased review.

  7. serdi

    I will be glad to describe the coliseum before they wrecked it.

    Let’s walk through the front doors on the Ave. of Champions.

    When you enter there are two ramps. The one to the right is where all the students went into the Coliseum. You had to show your ID. That was your admission.

    The left ramp went up to the season ticket holders side, the only side of the Coliseum that had permanent chairback seats.

    Instead of going up one of the ramps, lets just go through next set of doors which takes you into the arena. There you would find a sizeable set of bleachers. 98% of the people who sat in the bleachers were the Kentucky Legislature.

    As you look out onto the playing floor, again you have the season ticket holder chair back seats. On the opposite side, the Rose Street side, you have permanent wood bleachers and student seating.

    At the other end of the court where you have the white wall and offices/training whatever, there were permanent wood bleachers and then you had the balacony of the same seating which is still there today above the ugly wall.

    In its grandest configuration, the announced seating capacity was 11,500. I never went to a game there that had 11,500. It always exceeded that. On the student side, I am guessing that there were 30 seats marked off on a row of bleacher. My guess I never sat on a row that had less than 40.

    The acoustics…With its architectural design with the flat ceiling, the acoustics were perfect. Symphony orchestras, singers etc that conducted concerts there marveled. In Coach Rupp’s later years he could sit in a chair at one end of the court and speak in a normal voice and correct or compliment the player at the other end of the court. They talk about Rupp being loud, when the Coliseum was rocking and all that sound was hitting that flat ceiling and bouncing back…wow.

    Lighting…The lighting was all in the ceiling. Today they do not use the lights in the ceiling. They have brought in the tray lighting for HD television. Its awful. They way the ceiling lighting was, when the game was being played, the only lights in the arena were on the floor…so you as a fan were watching a performance. This darkness added to perfect shooters background. If you ever talk to someone who played there, I would be shocked if they did not tell you that was the best shooting background of any arena they ever played in.

    It was a grand old place. It is a shame they ever moved out. They looked at the option before Rupp of knocking out the Ave. of Champions end and building more seating out over the street, probably would have gotten the seating capacity to 16…they said since it was a state highway that they could not build out over ROW. I never believed it for one second…This was Kentucky basketball we were talking about.

    1. CATandMONKEY

      I love the idea of still playing in such a great place. We could still do it…for 250 bucks for an upper level seat. Ralph isn’t walking through that door. It is a different game and a different…century. We should be leading the nation in ALL aspects of the game. Our venue is not world class anymore. An 18k seat arena as you describe would be incredible. Let’s get it built. I would earmark my donations for such a venue.

    2. RealCatsFan

      Thanks for the info! I remember when UK ended up in the NIT in 2013, and Memorial was not available for the UK game, I thought it’s a shame that they don’t play ONE men’s basketball game in there. It would be a really neat marketing opportunity to play one pre-conference game in Memorial, put the tickets on the open market so anyone can go (not just season ticket holders), but give the students first shot at the tickets so you are guaranteed a loud and rowdy audience. Maybe even have Nike do a set of throwback jerseys for the game. I know there is a better chance of a snowstorm in hell, but you have to admit this would be really neat.

  8. Sentient Third Eye

    If UK only had 18 to 19 thousand seats, I’d have to think what that would do to ticket prices in the after market. Shrink the supply and given constant demand, and prices would soar.

    1. serdi

      Cameron Indoor is 10 years older than Memorial Coliseum. New and Bigger is not always bigger. With the deep pockets of big donors, and the SEC$$$$$$$$, we could afford to still have played there. You are just guessing it would be so much more expensive. I am sorry for all you too young to have never gone to a game there…”it was a different era”…yes it was…

    2. serdi

      that should have been better…New and Bigger is not always better.

  9. Sentient Third Eye

    If the proposed renovation of Rupp from last year had happened as originally planned, Rupp would have become the best place on earth to watch a basketball game.

    That said, that full renovation and the new Commonwealth could not have both happened at the same time, and football needed it more.

  10. cats4fitch

    Very good article! Very informative and enjoyable read.
    FYI Michael Qualls threw the ball that landed on top of the scoreboard, not Harrison.

    1. cats4fitch

      Good call! The espn announcers got that wrong during our the uk game last week then. I should’ve known better than to doubt you!