Saturday’s Black and Gold game will be the first chance for most Missouri fans to see the inside of Paige Sports Arena, the Tigers’ new $75-million home, but the basketball arena is getting mixed reviews from some.
The Missouri athletic department held an open house at Paige Sports Arena on Oct. 13, for students. Similar public events will be held Monday though Wednesday.
“Obviously, it’s nice because it’s new,” said Annie Williams, an MU junior who attended the open house. “But I don’t feel like it will have the same atmosphere (as Hearnes Center). The fans won’t be on top of the court like they used to be, so I wonder if it will get as crazy. I guess I’ll have to see what it’s like when it’s full.”
Comparisons with Hearnes Center are inevitable, but not all reflect negatively on Paige Sports Arena.
“The Hearnes (Center) has been a great home for Missouri basketball for 32 years, and anytime there is a change there will be some folks that will miss the old home,” said Sam Fleury, assistant media information director for the MU athletic department. “However, there have been very few individuals that have expressed trepidation about the addition of the arena. As most people know that it will be an unbelievable resource for the university.”
While a change in the incline of seating might mean fewer fans will be over the court, it also means the climb to the seats should be less hazardous. Paige Sports Arena also offers more seats in its lower sections than Hearnes Center. Sixty percent of Paige Arena’s seats are in its lower bowl, compared to 30 percent in Hearnes Center.
Visibility was a key consideration in constructing Paige Sports Arena. According to a statement from the MU athletics department, Paige Sports Arena is designed to offer “students and fans comfortable seating and a state-of-the-art spectator experience, including exceptionally well-developed sight lines from every seat in the house.”
The arena’s large sky-light windows, on either end of its distinctive curved roof, allow natural light into the court area.
“The light quality on the floor is much better,” photographer Jenna Isaacson said to a colleague after a practice on Oct. 17. “Hearnes Center was a cave.”
Paige Sports Arena has a seating capacity of 15,601, including 26 private suites. Hearnes Center seats 13,611. Construction of the arena was funded by a $25 million donation from the Bill Laurie family, a $35 million construction bond from the state and an additional $15 million in private donations. The arena is named after Paige Laurie, daughter of Bill and Nancy Laurie. Nancy Laurie is the daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton.
With its suites and high-profile private donors, Paige Sports Arena betrays some corporate influence, a trait that rubs some fans the wrong way.
“Overall, I like it,” MU senior Thatcher Kamin said. “But I do think it is a disgrace that they have ‘Paige Sports Arena’ in big bold letters all around the floor, and ‘Norm Stewart Court’ is written in tiny little letters. Norm Stewart has done more for the Missouri basketball program than Paige Laurie ever will.”
Any hesitation in accepting Paige Sports Arena as the Tigers’ new home certainly has not been reflected in the ticket sales. Season tickets have been sold out since August, representing a 26 percent increase in sales over last season.
“People are blown away by its great sightlines, fan friendly seating and just the overall aesthetics of the building,” Fleury said. “The fact that the building is sold out of season tickets, over 1,800 more season tickets sold than last year, is an indicator that interest and excitement in regard to the Mizzou basketball program and the Paige (Sports Arena) are at a high level.”