- Joseph Oakes
Thompson-Boling Arena – Tennessee Volunteers
Photos by Josh Oakes, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Thompson-Boling Arena 1600 Phillip Fulmer Way Knoxville, TN 37916
Year Opened: 1987
Rocky Top Tennessee
Nestled along the banks of the Tennessee River among the gently rolling hills of the state that bears the same name is the University of Tennessee and Thompson-Boling Arena. Home of the Tennessee Volunteers, the current capacity is 21,678, which makes it the third largest on-campus basketball arena in the United States, behind the Carrier Dome of Syracuse and the Dean Smith Center at Chapel Hill.
On December 3, 1987, Thompson-Boling Arena officially opened and saw the Volunteers defeat Marquette 82-56 in front of 25,272 fans. The initial capacity was a shade over 24,000 and remained so until renovations in 2007 saw the addition of 32 luxury suites in the upper deck behind the team benches. In addition to being the home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the volleyball team, this arena is also used for concerts, conventions, monster truck rallies, and a myriad of other events.
The arena itself is named after business mogul B. Ray Thompson and former UT President Dr. Edward J. Boling. In March of 2005, The University of Tennessee named the court “The Summitt” in honor of legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who led the Lady Vols to an astounding 1,098 victories and eight National Championships.
Food & Beverage 3
There is only one concourse at Thompson-Boling, and this limits the number of concession stands. The selection isn’t half bad, though. Temporary food carts sell popcorn, ice cream, pretzels, and assorted beverages, and are scattered around the concourse. Permanent stands sell the stadium essentials: hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pretzels (again), Domino’s pizza, and the like. Aside from the standard fare, Calhoun’s BBQ has a stand-behind section 123. Other fan favorites include Moe’s and Petro’s Chili and Chips.
If you are going to eat at the stadium, I would recommend Petro’s. Here you can order a bowl layered with Frito chips, chili, fresh tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, olives, and jalapeños. If any of that sounds unappetizing, don’t worry; every order is custom-made to your specifications.
Spanning 12 stories from the playing surface to the ceiling, this place has the appearance of being somewhat cavernous. The sheer size, coupled with the 21,000-plus seating capacity, is more reminiscent of an NBA arena than a college venue. To put things into perspective, the seating capacity for Wizards games at the Verizon Center is 20,282.
While the arena itself may remind one more of the NBA than the NCAA, the atmosphere during the game is very much a college atmosphere. For men’s games, sections 123-126 are designated student sections, as well as the bottom half of sections 128-130 behind the basket.
The latter area is known affectionately by students as “the mosh pit.” This is where the “Rocky Top Rowdies” stand, between the band in section 128 and the dance team in section 130. When “Enter Sandman” is played over the PA system during pre-game, the entire tuba and trombone section stands up and dances, and the entire band, joined by most of the student section, sings along with the chorus.
No trip to Rocky Top would be complete without the playing and singing of the official state song “Rocky Top.” If you don’t know the words, that’s okay; you will buy the time tip-off rolls around.
Once the game starts, it is non-stop action from start to finish. The fans, especially the students, are in it from beginning to end. The fact that Thompson-Boling Arena was also designed as a concert venue helps with the noise. The acoustics are terrific, as is the PA system.
Tennessee got a lot of things right with Thompson-Boling Arena and the location is one of them. With the gently curving banks of the Tennessee River on one side and the historic campus of Tennessee’s only land-grant university on the other, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque location for a basketball stadium.
The pedestrian ramp outside Gate F provides a sweeping view of the mighty river, the various railroad and vehicle bridges that span it, as well as downtown Knoxville itself. This view is especially spectacular at night when the lights from the bridges and skyline reflect off the water. The ramp outside the student gate, gate A, provides a similar view of the river, only with the hills of eastern Tennessee as a backdrop.
The food scene in Knoxville is on par with the aesthetic aspect of the city. Just down the river, along Volunteer Landing, is Calhoun’s on the River. Calhoun’s is an east Tennessee staple with various locations in Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Maryville. The menu comprises mainly steak, burgers, and barbecue. Regardless of what you order, be sure to try the savory corn pudding.
Bordering the campus to the north and less than a mile from the arena is Cumberland Avenue and an area commonly referred to as “the strip.” Here you can find everything from Panda Express and Raising Cane’s to The Copper Cellar, Aladdin Mediterranean Grill, Stefano’s Chicago Style Pizza, and Jai Dee Thai & Japanese Cuisine. Your best bet for a drink is a place called The Half Barrel; the only downside to The Half Barrel is that is not non-smoking.
About a mile to the east is downtown and Market Square. Ask anyone in Knoxville where the best place to eat is and you will get a myriad of responses. The one constant, however, is Stock and Barrel. On top of having a first-rate selection of whiskey and beer, the food and service here are amazing. My favorite item here is their bison burger. I can’t tell where the cheese stops and where the meat begins with this particular delicacy. Their Greek burger is a close second for me. Also, whatever you order (and no order is wrong here), be sure to get a side of duck fries. The duck fries are seared in duck fat, covered with cheese and green onions, and served in a mini bucket.
In 1982, Knoxville hosted the last successful World’s Fair at the aptly named World’s Fair Park. If you plan on walking downtown from the arena, you will pass it. This peaceful piece of real estate has a mini river running through it, open grass fields, benches, and, of course, the world-famous Sunsphere. The observation deck on the fourth level of the golden globe is free and open to the public.
For Tennessee fans, football will always come first. That being said, Vol fans love and support every team at UT. Always dressed in bright orange, the fans at Thompson-Boling Arena are in the game from start to finish, regardless of the score. Tennessee consistently ranks in the top 20 of the NCAA for men’s and women’s basketball.
Knoxville is a big enough city to have a vibrant food, music, and social scene, but small enough to still be a tight-knit community. Whether it is your first game or your 500th game, everyone here will do their absolute best to make you feel welcome. The fans love their team and their city and are more than happy to tell you all about both. There is a saying on Rocky Top that UT is like one big family, and it’s true. Whether or not you go to UT is inconsequential; the fans will make you feel welcome.
Due to its location on the river, finding the arena is relatively easy and parking is plentiful. As a general rule, the closer you park to a stadium, the longer it will take to leave. Parking is plentiful on campus, and there are signs and employees on nearly every road approaching the arena pointing you in the right direction. Parking costs $10. More information and the parking map can be found here. ADA entrances are located on the street level.
Restrooms are located on the corners and at half court on both sides of the arena with water fountains at center court, as well. The concourse is pretty wide, but it can get rather packed at halftime. If you do get lost, the ushers will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Don’t want to get stuck in pre-game or post-game traffic? Park downtown and take either a Knoxville Area Transit bus or a free trolley to the campus. The buses and trolleys run all night, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck after the game.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for conference games average $15 to $30, depending on the seat location. Knoxville is an incredibly fun city with plenty to do and see on a budget. Hotels can cost anywhere from $65 near the airport to $100 for a nice room downtown. Overall, this is a great city to escape to for a few days.
If you have some time before the game, head across the parking lot and up the staircase to Circle Park and the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. The museum is free to the public and open from 9-5 Monday-Saturday and from 1-5 on Sunday.
Just up from downtown is the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Also downtown and worth checking out is the Tennessee Theatre. This beautiful theater first opened its doors in 1928. It is the official state theater of Tennessee and still, hosts show regularly.
The UT Dance Team is phenomenal. At most college basketball games, the dance team is used as more of a filler than anything else. The dance team here is good, really good. They are much more than just a filler, so pay attention during the time outs.