5 Star Stories: Taking a closer look at FedExForum
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - When it comes to the things we love about Memphis, FedExForum ranks near the top as the premier sports and entertainment facility in the Mid-South.
Basketball is king at FedExForum, whether it’s the Grizzlies or Memphis Tigers, or college basketball tournaments.
“There’s times when we do two basketball games in the same day and we have to change the court from a Tigers’ game to a Grizzlies game.,” said Dwight Johnson, vice president with arena operations.
Other times, sneakers get shelved for skates as hardwood turns to hard ice for hockey teams and Disney dancers. Even professional bull riders get star treatment.
“It’s amazing walking in here seeing a dump trunk dropping off dirt, load after load, after load,” said Johnson. “After that’s over, we have to clean it all up and there’s dirt everywhere. So, for the next day, we clean up but weeks later we see dirt and we’re cleaning up new areas saying, man, how did that dirt get into that location?” (
When the WWE rolls in twice a year, the entire building is transformed into a soundstage and studio.
“You know it’s a full TV production, so they have TV trucks, satellite trucks, as well as most of the athletes drive themselves. So, the loading dock downstairs is a real joy with all kinds of rental cars,” said Jeff Olson, director of booking.
Opening for business in 2004, the FedExForum sits on 14 acres of downtown real estate on one of America’s most iconic streets, Beale Street, the home of the blues.
“It’s the major entertainment center in Memphis when it comes to sports and entertainment,” Johnson said.
The forum’s design pays tribute to the city’s musical heritage starting out front. These 24 bollards in front of the forum are actually an art installation called “Roots of Memphis Music,” and it’s dedicated to the history of black music in Memphis. You can even scan a QR code on them to learn more about the historic moments and musicians.
The interior is bedecked with paintings and murals of some of the city’s most famous artists, guitar-shaped archways, and musically themed restaurants.
“One of the great things about working here at FedExForum is working with all of the great musical acts that we have coming in,” said Olson.
The stories behind the scenes are as exciting as the entertainers on stage, like the time thunderstorms delayed Lionel Richie’s flight into Memphis for his 2014 concert.
“And CeeLo Green went on stage and was performing and we’re all like, he’s not here, he’s not here,” recalled Olson. “Finally, got word that he was on a private plane and so he took off and we got word that he was on his way. So, MPD helped us out with a little police escort, got him here. He rolled in with police, jumped out of the car. I think he did like one quick picture with a couple of people and then literally walked right on stage.”
Mid-South native Justin Timberlake came to the forum in 2019.
“This was one of the biggest tours that we’ve had at FedExForum as far as the production standpoint,” Olson said. “So, you know we’ve got 175 stagehands, we’ve got, you know, a couple hundred other staff that’s working. I think they had 13 buses and 28 semi’s for that tour.”
None of it would be possible without the hard work of hundreds of FedExForum employees in guest services, conversion, and concessions.
“Our staffing, we have about 40 full-time people, but for part-timers, it could range from 300 to 500 depending on the event,” Johnson said.
Every day there’s a new challenge, but with coordination, planning, and communication, it all gets done and on time.
To see 17,000 people all having a good time and know that you helped put it together, it’s a great feeling and makes you kind of keep coming back and work hard,” Olson said.
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