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
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
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.
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.
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:
(That’s the happiest Dusty Hannahs looked all night.)
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.
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?
Nothing groundbreaking. Clean and spacious.
— Coach Mike Anderson (@MikeAndersonUA) September 23, 2015
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:
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:
“Boss Hog” is ready for the game pic.twitter.com/wQKUCcRSds
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) January 21, 2016
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:
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.
No complaints, nice and helpful.
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
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.
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
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