Over the past four 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 Thursday, I visited Ole Miss’ new arena, The Pavilion, 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
Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena
Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena
Texas A&M’s Reed Arena
Opened: January 4, 2016
I gave Ole Miss’ old arena, the Tad Pad, the lowest ranking of any SEC arena I’ve visited, so you can imagine my delight in getting to visit their new $96.5 million facility, which opened a year ago today. Inside and out, it’s gorgeous. The facility — which features a five-story, 800-space parking garage — is nestled next to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and a stone’s throw from The Grove. Like several SEC schools, Ole Miss has done a great job of putting its athletic facilities right in the heart of campus. Here’s a video tour:
It’s a minor detail, but I especially like how the lettering on the new facility harkens back to the lettering on the old one:
The Pavilion is modest in terms of capacity, seating only 9,500, making it the second smallest arena in the SEC behind Auburn (9,121); however, it’s still larger than the Tad Pad, which held only 8,700 fans and was infested with squirrels. Honestly, in an age in which fewer fans are attending games, 9,500 is a very reasonable (and practical) facility for an SEC school not named Kentucky. The inside of the Pavilion is possibly even more beautiful than the outside, with a large glass facade that fills the arena with natural light during the day:
For anyone who’s been to the Tad Pad or similarly dark SEC West arenas, the difference is literally night and day.
The Pavilion has several different seating areas, including courtside and baseline seating for students, three premium club areas, and more than 1,700 premium seats. According to Ole Miss’ website, the men’s and women’s locker room measure almost 1,500 square feet, and there’s also two visiting team locker rooms, officials’ locker rooms, a volleyball locker room, and a green room space. Wherever you sit, you’re going to get a good view:
This is where the Pavilion shines. Not only is it easy to get around because of the limited capacity, the main concourse/lobby features the C Spire Speedzone, an interactive lounge featuring free 1 gigabit-per-second Wi-Fi, TVs, social media displays, charging stations, and plenty of places to hang out and “recharge” during halftime and timeouts. My husband made the trip with me and was stunned by the amenities:
There’s even an area in the C Spire Speedzone that overlooks the floor with built-in iPads so you can surf the web during the game:
And apparently google cows:
Next to the C Spire Speedzone are a Steak ‘N Shake and a Raising Canes and there are several other local chains around the arena, such as Old Venice Pizza Company and Chop’s BBQ. Of course, there are standard concession stands featuring standard fare, like hot dogs, cheeseburgers, popcorn, pretzels, and a “Cheese Cup,” which I want to know more about.
Standard hot dog price: $4 (Hebrew National Hot Dog)
Confession: I was so busy running around I didn’t get a chance to sample the popcorn, but if it’s anything like the freshly popped goodness I got at the Courtyard Marriott before the game, I’m sure it was delicious.
Signature food: 5
I couldn’t find a specific “signature food,” but there were so many unique offerings via Steak ‘N Shake, Raising Canes, and the local chains that I’m giving this a five.
New, clean, big, ample length from the automatic towel dispensers.
Ole Miss’ center-hung video scoreboard is the largest in college sports (or, at least it was when the facility opened last year), and features 13 video displays and nearly 2,400 square feet of LED. There are four main video displays, two undermount video displays (solving those #CloseToTheCourtProblems), four corner displays and three 360-degree rings. Simply put, it’s awesome, and they utilized it well.
PA System/announcer/music: 4
The sound system was amazing, but I don’t remember anything spectacular about the music selection or the announcer, so I’ll just give it a four, which is above average because they did a good job using the video board. During pregame, they showed the “Randy” Kennedy/Jay Bilas mock interview from last year, which is always good for a laugh.
Fun stuff: 5
Ole Miss had an emcee that would work the crowd during timeouts and halftime, and she was pretty good; however, all of the fun video board stuff, games, and giveaways were my favorite part. Ole Miss had a Plinko game ala “Price is Right,” a musical chairs game at half, parachutes that fell from the rafters with gift cards to the tune of “Danger Zone,” and a neat digital lucky seat ball that went around the ribbon boards to give a certain section prizes. All in all, very well done.
Also, check out this t-shirt gun:
Pep band: 4
Ole Miss calls its marching band “The Pride of the South,” and even though students were on winter break, there was still a reasonably sized pep band in attendance playing the usual tunes to keep your toes tapping. They’re situated in one of the corners near the courtside student section.
Halftime show: 4
I made the mad dash to the media room for free food at half, but from what I could see, there was a fun musical chairs type game featuring students/fans and the Ole Miss mascot. That may not sound very exciting, but it was a heck of a lot more entertaining than Quick Change.
Ole Miss students got these t-shirts, which I really wanted to take and cover the “It” up with red tape, but hey, maybe next time.
Ticket price: 4
Considering the limited capacity and brand new amenities, tickets are pretty reasonable at the Pavilion. For most SEC games, lower-level tickets are $25 and mezzanine $20. For bigger games like Kentucky and Baylor (January 28), that price goes up. Also cool: even if you’re not season-ticket holder, you can purchase single-game tickets in the All-American, Courtside, and Pavilion Clubs, although you won’t be allowed into some premium areas. If you show up last minute, you can even stand in the “standing room only” area in the mezzanine.
Ole Miss even had a “Dollar Night” over the holiday break when they played Bradley in which the offered $1 tickets, $1 hot dogs, $1 popcorn, and $1 small drinks. That’s an awesome deal.
All very nice and helpful. No complaints.
Press area/meal: 5
The media room was very nice, featuring a large, spacious podium for players and coaches, and ample work room for reporters. There was also a soda fountain and the media meal, which on that night was chicken, dirty rice, green beans, and salad, the latter of which is a luxury at most arenas. They even had a Keurig machine, which I was so impressed by I took a picture of:
Press row was atop one of the lower level corner sections, which, honestly, was ideal.
Student Section: 4
In terms of location, Ole Miss’ student section is one of the best I’ve seen, covering one full side of the court as well as both end zones. With a lot of students home for break and Kentucky ahead by a lot most of the game, the student section never really got loud, but they’ve got one of the best setups I’ve seen in the SEC for when they do.
BBN Effect: 3.5
The timing of the game was tricky; not only was the bowl game a few days later in Jacksonville (a good 9.5 hour drive from Oxford), it was four days after Christmas, meaning a lot of people couldn’t make the trip because of the holiday. I have a feeling if the football team had gone to either the Liberty Bowl (nearby Memphis) or the Music City Bowl (Nashville), a lot of fans would have combined the two trips. That being said, I was pleased with the amount of Kentucky fans that made the trip. I’d estimate about 15-20% of the crowd was Cats fans, and given Kentucky’s stellar play, they made themselves known throughout.
GBB chant count: 3
Ole Miss’ campus is very beautiful, covered in trees, brick, and ivy. The famous Grove was quiet on this trip as students were home for break, giving grounds crews a chance to till up all the trampled on bottlecaps and reseed the grass. John Calipari said this after the game, but when Ole Miss builds something new on campus, they do it right, from the performing arts center that housed the 2008 Presidential Debate to the new, state-of-the-art basketball arena.
This was my third time to Oxford and I’ve written all about my love for the small Southern town, which ranks as one of USA Today’s top six college towns in America. After this trip, I think Oxford rivals Athens, Georgia as my favorite SEC stop; I love everything about it, from the idyllic square to the thriving restaurant and arts scene, and of course, the scenery. Locals call Oxford “The Little Easy” because of how much it resembles New Orleans with its wrought-iron balconies, incredible restaurants and party atmosphere, and it’s easy to see why famed author William Faulkner chose to live there, along with current part time residents John Grisham, Wright Thompson, the Mannings, and apparently, Morgan Freeman, who lives on a farm in the area but comes in frequently for Ole Miss games. It was a little too chilly to do on this trip, but my favorite thing to do while in Oxford is find a spot on a balcony overlooking the square, have a cocktail, and people watch. Through the recommendations of a friend, we tried City Grocery (shrimp and grits below) and a new spot, St. Leo’s, which was perfect for postgame cocktails. I highly recommend both:
There are so many great restaurants and bars in Oxford that I can’t wait until my/Kentucky’s next trip. Also, if you go for a basketball game in the future, stay at the Courtyard Marriott on Jackson Avenue, which is perfectly situated within walking distance of both the square and the new arena.
Overall atmosphere: 5
Beautiful basketball arena, beautiful town, big win. You really can’t ask for more.
Total score: 91.5/100
Auburn Arena: 84/100
Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena: 79/100
Texas A&M’s Reed Arena: 79/100
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
Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena: 69/100
Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum: 69/100
Ole Miss’ Tad Smith Coliseum: 68.5/100