The University of Memphis football program is very fortunate to
have one of the finest football facilities in the nation in which to
play its home football games. Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, "built by
the citizens of Memphis," is a memorial to the veterans of World War I,
World War II and the Korean War. The renovated 62,380-seat facility,
built in 1965 at a cost of $3.7 million by the city of Memphis and
renovated in 1987 for $19.5 million, is operated by the Memphis Park
The Tigers inaugurated the stadium in the fall of 1965 and in 41
years, have compiled a 130-106-7 record in the Liberty Bowl. The stadium
features a synthetic FieldTurf playing surface, spacious locker rooms
and a four-level press box, which features a stadium club for VIPs. The
playing surface, which had been natural grass through the 2004 season,
was replaced with the new FieldTurf surface that is used in more than 25
NCAA Division IA football stadiums.
In December of 1983, city of Memphis officials named the playing
surface Rex Dockery Field in honor of the late Tiger coach, who was
killed in a plane crash.
In the spring of 1984, the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Memphis
added a new scoreboard and sound system to Liberty Bowl Memorial
Stadium/Rex Dockery Field. The computer operated scoreboard is 100-feet
long and stands 23-feet high. It has a 16' x 32' message center and is
the largest scoreboard in the Mid-South.
Included in the 1987 stadium renovation were the addition of the
sky-suites located on the east side of the stadium, approximately 12,000
seats in the stands and a stadium club to accommodate donors. In
addition, several areas of the stadium were vastly improved, including
the lighting system, playing surface, handicap seating area, concession
stands and restroom facilities.
In 1999, the city of Memphis and Jumbotron entered into an
agreement which placed a new video scoreboard system in the stadium.
In addition to the new playing surface for the 2005 season, the
stadium has also undergone minor aesthetic changes that have made the
stadium look more like the "Home of the Tigers."
The stadium is also the host site of the annual AutoZone/Liberty
Bowl game each December, as well as the Southern Heritage Classic.
Located near the Memphis Fairgrounds, the stadium also hosted the
Tennessee-Kentucky High School All-Star game in 1994.
The largest crowd to witness a Memphis home football game at the
Liberty Bowl was the record-setting 65,885 who attended the Tigers'
stunning upset of No. 6 ranked Tennessee in 1996. The Tigers defeated
the Vols, 21-17, before a regionally-televised audience on CBS-TV. The
entire nation, however, saw Memphis' game-winning drive when CBS carried
the final five minutes nationally.
In 2004, Memphis hosted Louisville for an ESPN-broadcasted
Thursday night game. A crowd of 52,384 fans came out for the game,
marking the largest Tiger crowd for a non-SEC opponent. That same
season, Memphis set a new home attendance average record with 41,175
fans in just five games. The previous high average was 40,622 in 2003,
and that was for seven home games.
The 62,380-seat Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is the site of all the University of Memphis home football games as well as the Liberty Bowl postseason game. The stadium has also hosted numerous concerts. The Liberty Bowl, which was built at a cost of $3.7 million by the city, was inaugurated in 1965. The stadium was renovated in 1987 at a cost of $19.5 million which included sky-suites, approximately 12,000 new seats, a new stadium club, new lighting system, new playing surface, new handicap seating area and numerous concession stands and restroom facilities for the new sections. In 1993, the Liberty Bowl received a new artificial surface for the sidelines and a fresh coat of paint for the inner walls.
JUSTICE DEPT. ORDERS $40 MILLION UPGRADE TO LIBERTY BOWL
February 19, 2009
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Memphis, Tenn. - Justice Department officials have notified Memphis that the city has until
September 2010 to update Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in compliance with Americans with
Disabilities Act requirements, a project that officials say will cost more than $40 million.
"That's a humongous undertaking," said City Atty. Elbert Jefferson. "This is a serious,
serious issue for the city."
Mayor Willie Herenton said he is "deeply troubled by the timeline the Justice Department
has given us to get this done. From my view, it's impractical."
As part of a larger discussion about the future of Mid-South Fairgrounds redevelopment,
Herenton said he would make ADA improvements a priority.
"I'm making the decision as mayor, for everybody. We're going to focus on stadium
upgrades, focus on ADA requirements," Herenton said.
The mayor said he would not renew his previous calls for a new stadium at the fairgrounds.
"We have a horrendous challenge with the ADA," Herenton said. "We're not going to build a
new (stadium). We've got to improve that stadium and do it in concert with ADA requirements."
The City Council recently approved $216,605 in funding for architecture and engineering
work toward the creation of 219 wheelchair spaces and 219 companion seats.
The Justice Department is requiring the city to provide 600 seats for the disabled to keep the
43-year-old stadium open. It also wants to be part of the development approval process,
The city is retaining outside counsel in a bid to negotiate more time to complete the work,
but Justice Department officials say they aren't inclined to permit a delay.
The city has known since at least 2005 that it would have to improve wheelchair access at
the stadium. The work will almost certainly reduce the stadium's capacity, which is currently
62,380. (Memphis Commercial Appeal)
BEER SALES CONSIDERED AT LIBERTY BOWL
March 19, 2009
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Memphis, Tenn. - If certain members of the Memphis City Council have their way, beer sales
could become a reality at University of Memphis football games sooner rather than later.
Although it is estimated that beer sales could bring in anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 per
year, the university is concerned about the potential effect alcohol might have on the game-day
atmosphere inside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
"I don't brush it aside lightly," Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson said, "but I'm not sure
that's the answer."
However, with the U.S. Department of Justice pressuring the city to comply with the Americans
with Disabilities Act and increase access for disabled fans at the 44-year-old stadium, city officials are looking for ways to offset costs estimated as high as $40 million.
As city parks director Cindy Buchanan prepares to negotiate with university officials on a new
lease agreement, there is a determination on the city's part to ensure it is not forced to subsidize any game-day costs.
"We have not discussed this with (university officials) in terms of allowing us to sell beer,"
Buchanan said. "What we will tell them is they need to be able to pay for the cost of their games.
The city cannot continue to pay for their events."
According to Buchanan, operational costs for an average U of M home football game range
from $45,000-$50,000. The university, she said, has generally paid about $35,000 per game, plus
$7,500 for suite usage.
The city receives revenue from rental fees, parking and concessions, but also must provide staff
in those areas. While the majority of games break even or turn a profit, Buchanan said, some don't.
Because attendance has slipped, with some games drawing fewer than 10,000 fans, the gap
between cost and revenue has grown.
Johnson, however, said the benefits of Tiger football to the city can't be measured by game-day
"I've talked with (Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton) about this several times. It's more than just
what's going on at the stadium," Johnson said. "Every time we have a game, someone's coming to
town and staying in hotels and buying food at restaurants.
"There's a bigger picture."
Estimates vary as to how much revenue could be generated by selling beer at Tiger football
While the city put forward a conservative estimate of $150,000 per year in additional revenue
(depending on the makeup of the home schedule), SMG, the company hired by the city to operate
the stadium, estimates $250,000-$300,000. (Memphis Commercial Appeal)
MEMPHIS GETS CONTROL OF LIBERTY BOWL
August 20, 2009
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Memphis, Tenn. - The City of Memphis now controls the land under the Liberty bowl and has
full control of the Mid-South Coliseum after Shelby County officials decided to hand over their
shares of the properties.
The move makes the city responsible for development of the site. Developers have been
considering the land and may ask for public support for their projects. County leaders decided they wanted nothing to do with that idea and surrendered the county's portion.
The fairgrounds is a prime piece of real estate in central Memphis that's home to some
deteriorating and seldom-used structures, such as the Coliseum. The domed sports arena was
upstaged by The Pyramid and later, the FedExForum, and now stands empty.
In April, the commission voted to turn over its 50 percent stake in The Pyramid to the city in a
deal that included cash payments and forgiveness of debts.
MEMPHIS TO SELL BEER IN STADIUM
September 3, 2009
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Memphis, Tenn. - School officials have reversed an earlier decision and will now sell beer at
University of Memphis home games in an effort to reduce operating deficits.
The stadium - which the city recently spent $5 million to upgrade - was projected to lose
$261,000 in general operating costs. Chief administrative officer Jack Sammons said the sale of
beer would net the city $200,000, helping to reduce that deficit.
The subject was first approached in March when the city council began looking for more ways
to generate revenue, particularly with the U.S. Justice Department informing the city it had to
comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and increase access for disabled fans.
The city has taken the necessary precautions to prepare for beer sales, which will begin with
the Tigers' Sept. 6 season opener against Ole Miss.
Security will be substantially increased. Beer will be sold in clear, plastic cups, and sales will be cut off at the end of the third quarter.
MEMPHIS MAY SEEK DONATIONS FOR FOOTBALL SEATS
September 30, 2010
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Memphis, Tenn. - University of Memphis officials are considering setting up a per-seat
donation system for football beginning in 2011, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
While the plan would vary greatly from the per-seat donations required for Tigers men's basketball - a perennial Top 25 national program - it would represent a first for the football
program, the newspaper said. Donations would range from $25 to $250, with the highest per-seat fee required for box seats on the press box side of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. About one-third of the stadium's 60,000 seats would be included in the plan.
The men's basketball per-seat plan, which ranges from $25 per terrace-level seat to $3,000 per floor seat, was implemented two years ago and replaced a 25-year-old system that required lump-sum donations of between $100 and $25,000 in exchange for four to 14 season tickets.
Bill Landsen, associate athletic director for development, told the Commercial Appeal that the plan could generate between $500,000 and $600,000 in additional revenue. Per-seat donations for men's basketball and football go toward the Tiger Scholarship Fund, which pays for the scholarship costs of more than 300 student-athletes.
The TSF raised a record $7.3 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30. Scholarship costs for the university range between $6 million and $7 million annually. Excess funds are used to supplement the school's $34 million athletic budget.
The newspaper reported that the per-seat plan will include all of the approximately 1,600 box seats, in addition to lower sideline sections between the 10-yard lines, lower end zone sections and midsideline sections 117 to 123 on the east side and 101 to 108 on the west side.
Under the per-seat plan, Lansden said about 75 percent of the current season-ticket accounts would pay less than $250 to retain their locations. Johnson said that season-ticket sales had surpassed 20,000.
MEMPHIS MAYOR WANTS NEW ARENA, UPGRADES TO LIBERTY BOWL
January 20, 2011
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Memphis, Tenn. - Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton has plans to make major upgrades to the
Liberty Bowl stadium and build a 5,000-seat multi-purpose arena at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.
Commercial retail development at the site could pay for as much as $140 million in improvements to the fairgrounds, according to Robert Lipscomb, director of Housing and Community Development.
Along with a 5,000-seat, multi-use arena, the plan includes building basketball courts, soccer fields and making major improvements to Liberty Bowl, such as new video equipment inside the stadium and on Tiger Lane.
The city would issue requests for proposals to develop shops and restaurants, which Lipscomb told the newspaper would help pay for the other improvements to the 175-acre fairgrounds property.
Lipscomb has hired a consultant to study how much revenue the city could glean from creating a Tourist Development Zone. The zones divert increased collections of tax revenue from businesses within their boundaries back into specific public-use facilities.
"No general fund revenues will be used and the projects the TDZ can't pay for, we won't do," Lipscomb told the Commercial Appeal.
The plan Lipscomb outlined puts the city in control of fairgrounds redevelopment. Lipscomb said the city should act as master developer and outsource the development of retail village, youth sports complex and other sites to developers.
O.T. Marshall Architects served as the lead architect on the most recent plan.
Lipscomb did not predict the fate of the Mid-South Coliseum at the fairgrounds, but said the building's age and condition have rendered it virtually useless.
Television station WMC says the stadium's suites and press box will be remodeled and a new video screen will be installed.
MEMPHIS AGENCY SEEKS LOAN FOR LIBERTY BOWL WORK
March 17, 2011
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Memphis, Tenn. - The Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development would like
a $25 million loan from the city's Capital Improvement Program budget for improvements to the Fairgrounds and Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, including new luxury suites and video screens, the Memphis Commercial Appeal said.
HCD chief Robert Lipscomb told the newspaper the loan would be repaid through increased retail sales at a planned "urban retail village" on the Fairgrounds site.
"It's a short-term loan until the other revenue sources come through," said Lipscomb during a briefing to the City Council.
But several council members questioned the wisdom of approving such a large loan - $25 million would equal more than one-third of the city's CIP budget for the next fiscal year - without first studying what type of retail demand the Fairgrounds could support, and whether that would be enough to repay the loan and fund other planned improvements.
"The total cost is $25 million and our entire CIP budget will only be $65 million, which must include necessities such as fire trucks, police cars and equipment, and road paving," said council member Jim Strickland. "The proposal calls for the city's budget being reimbursed by the Fairgrounds retail, and we have not even evaluated the potential for such retail and the council has not approved any such plan."
Councilman Kemp Conrad also questioned the appropriateness of funding amenities like video screens and suites when many families are struggling to make ends meet.
"I doubt that the 10 percent of Memphians that are unemployed will be happy to hear the city is considering spending scarce tax dollars on luxury sky boxes and million-dollar JumboTrons," said Conrad. "These priorities are misplaced and out of touch with the needs of every Day Memphians. Do we want equipment for our policemen or JumboTrons. That's the choice we're faced with."
Lipscomb said a study of the retail potential at the Fairgrounds was under way and would likely be completed by March. Lipscomb said he proposed the $25 million loan so that work could be completed in time for the next football season. Lipscomb said the council may want to hold off any financial commitment until the study is complete, which would push back the completion date.
In addition to two video screens and suite upgrades at the Liberty Bowl, the $25 million would be used to demolish the Mid-South Coliseum, improve stadium lighting, fund streetscape improvements, paint the exterior of the stadium and other "cosmetic upgrades."
MEMPHIS EYES UPGRADES TO LIBERTY BOWL
February 16, 2012
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Memphis, Tenn. - With the announcement that the University of Memphis is upgrading its
conference affiliation status - moving from Conference USA to the Big East in 2013 - the Memphis Commercial Appeal asks if an upgrade at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium will follow.
The nearly 50-year-old, city-owned facility has been home to Tiger football and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl since the mid-1960s, and the Southern Heritage Classic for more than two decades. Although various renovations through the years have improved the game-day experience for fans and media, more upgrades are needed according to the three major tenants, all of whom are hoping the Big East's invitation to the U of M will be a catalyst for an accelerated facelift.
"We've got some things we really need to get done," said U of M athletic director R.C. Johnson. "This, the Big East announcement, intensifies those needs. And I think us being in a BCS (Bowl Championship Series) conference gives us a little more clout."
Johnson said he has had "ongoing conversations" with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton about Liberty Bowl improvements, discussions that took place before the Big East invitation. He said the mayor has been supportive.
"I think the (video board) is the No. 1 priority," Johnson said. "And that (artificial) turf field needs to be replaced, too. It's probably time."
Fred Jones, founder of the Southern Heritage Classic, said he, Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart and Johnson have routinely met the past several years to discuss ways to keep the stadium fan-friendly. All agree on the need for a new video board, which, according to Jones, would cost about $2.5 million.
Ehrhart said the small video board is about 13 years old and "size-wise it's inadequate; it's like having an old TV in your house with rabbit ears."
FedEx chief financial officer and executive vice president Alan Graf, president of the Tiger Athletics Advisory Board, said improvements to the press box and the video board are needed and he added he's open to chair-back seating at the Liberty Bowl that would reduce capacity but create demand.
"We have to improve the press box," he said. "We can't have writers who for the first time come to Memphis, writers from huge (metro areas) who have huge circulations, have their first impression of our football program (be) that press box."
MEMPHIS ASKS TENANTS FOR LIBERTY BOWL FUNDING PLAN
March 8, 2012
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Memphis, Tenn. - Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium's tenants have two weeks to come up with a
plan to help fund improvements for the 47-year-old facility, or the city councilman pushing the plan says he won't present it to the City Council in time for the improvements to be finished by the start of this football season.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal said Councilman Reid Hedgepeth said he'd like the tenants to provide a collective $500,000 annually over 15 years to help pay the debt the city would incur to improve the stadium's field, lighting, sound system and elevators, apply fresh paint, install two new video boards and possibly renovate the press box. He estimated the full project could cost between $10 million and $12 million.
Timing is important, Hedgepeth told the council's parks committee. If the council's approval comes later than its March 20 meeting, an already tight schedule to install video boards would be infeasible if it wanted them operable by the University of Memphis' Sept. 1 season opener.
The committee approved Hedgepeth's resolution that called for improvements but didn't outline a way to fund them. A more detailed proposal is expected to appear later.
Talk of improving the stadium, which is owned by the city, has gained steam in recent weeks after the U of M gained entry into the Big East Conference. But the city projects a $47 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year.
Park services director Cindy Buchanan said the stadium most recently ran at an annual deficit of $200,000. Buchanan said costs to have it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act could range from $5 million to $20 million.
UPGRADES TO LIBERTY BOWL APPROVED
April 5, 2012
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Memphis, Tenn. - The University of Memphis and FedEx will help fund $9 million in
improvements to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, according to a plan approved by the Memphis City Council.
The Commercial Appeal said the city will apply to the state for Tourist Development Zone status for the Fairgrounds area, allowing tax revenues to be spent to pay off the bonds that will fund the improvements. Officials didn't seem overly concerned that receiving TDZ status from the state would be difficult, but the UofM is offering a $500,000 annual guarantee over 15 years in case there is a snag and FedEx plans to cover the costs for a $2.5 million video board.
"The taxpayers are not being asked to spend one dime on these improvements to the Liberty Bowl," said City Councilman Reid Hedgepeth, who proposed the measure.
The improvements, which officials hope are ready in time for the Tigers' Sept. 1 opener, include new lighting, which would provide 30 percent more light at 50 percent of the current energy cost, new synthetic turf field and improvements to existing concession stands and to add new ones.
The video board's cost is estimated at $2.5 million, but that could change depending on the bids that are received. Original concepts had included two video boards, but they were scaled back. Constructing the video board, which will replace the current one on the south side of the stadium, will likely take the longest amount of time.