Sunday's University of Louisville exhibition game was the team's first game (though not official) at the new KFC Yum! Center. As a long time Cardinals fan, I was excited to experience the new venue, but was overcome with a bit of nostalgia and some mixed emotions at the experience of the new arena. Certainly the Yum! Center is a state of the art venue, but I felt as though it lacked some of the character The Hall had provided for so many years. I decided to put the Yum! Center head to head with Freedom Hall and see who won in a competition. Here goes:
Obviously, Freedom Hall is going to win this one. Think of all the greats that have played there. Pervis Ellison, Charlie Tyra, Wes Unseld, DeJuan Wheat, Milt Wagner, Derrell Griffith. You just don't get that kind of feeling at the new arena. I didn't notice any banners hanging in the rafters (though there is a lot going on around, between the statistics boards, digital advertisements, etc). Maybe they will be unveiled when the official season starts. The Hall of Champions in the lobby of the Yum! Center is well done and has some interesting memorabilia, but can't match the memories of The Hall.
Score: Hall-1; Yum!-0
This is a close one. There were some things I noticed to be missing at the Yum! Center that were surprising. At a venue built in 2010, I was shocked that my seat did not have a cup holder. Even the seats at the Hall were retrofitted with drink holders in the last ten years. On the other side, it is very exciting to be greeted with warm water when you wash your hands in the restrooms. As for the food selection, the advantage definitely goes to the Yum! Center. There is definitely no shortage of places to purchase a snack or a drink and the variety is excellent. Food selections range from philly cheesesteaks or bratwursts with peppers and onions, many Yum! Brands options, including Taco Bell and Pizza Hut (including wings), and standard stadium food like hot dogs and nachos. Just don't go expecting to find value-priced food. I was particularly struck by the price of food at Taco Bell - a combo of three tacos and a drink was a staggering $10.25. Still, advantage goes to Yum!
Score: Hall-1; Yum!-1
My view of this is a bit skewed. Because of the large price increase for seats, my seats barely compare to my old seats at Freedom Hall. I hardly feel like I am in the same building as the team. It is also hard to tell what watching a game that means something will feel like, given that this was an exhibition game. These points notwithstanding, I felt as though the Yum! Center lacked some enthusiasm. Attendance was announced at 18,000+ and it seemed as though you could have heard a pin drop throughout the game. The student section was also strikingly small. I counted what I estimated to be six rows, and I am still not postive I even correctly identified the student section. If UofL ever wants to have a homecourt advantage like Duke or UNC, we are going to have to increase the size and the volume of the student section. The statistics and scoring screens on the walls between the levels and the jumbotrons were nice additions, but for some reason, I expected to see more. I actually had to look for the score from my seats on the 3rd level. I figured in a new arena, stats would be everywhere. I did like that the scoring line in the corners included the last names of the players. Overall, I believe once I get used to where everything is and the crowd all shows up, it will be great. However, some old habits die hard, and the crowd all began pouring out of the exits with 5:00 remaining. I am close to calling this a tie, but will give the advantage to Yum!
Score: Hall:1; Yum!: 2
Entering the Yum! Center is certainly a sight to see. The entrance is grand, but can be a bit hard to navigate (a problem which I am sure will be worked out once people get used to the new venue). There are different escalators/stairs for each level, and you cannot move through the different levels to get to your own. It makes traffic bottle up a bit. For example, you have to take an escalator to get up to the third level, and there is no other option other than the elevators. The stairs are only used to exit. If you are in a hurry, this is not the place to be. As for traffic, they seemed to have plenty of traffic control within the surrounding blocks of the arena, but it didn't seem too bad for this game. Time will tell how the downtown traffic pattern handles close games. People have complained about Ring Road for years, so now is your chance to see what the other side looks like. To me, this may still be a toss up - I thought getting through Freedom Hall on the inside was MUCH easier, and the outside may be too close to call.
Score: Hall:1; Yum!: 2 Tie: 1
Overall, it seems the advantage goes to the KFC Yum! Center. Some of the amenities are great, and I do love the warm water in the bathrooms (seriously, I think that was my favorite part - and I am not alone - several women were discussing it in the restroom), but I think it may take me some time to get used to. It's just like a break up with your first love. The new person may be a better fit for you, but you can't help but always have feelings for your first.