The Greensboro Coliseum Complex celebrated its 50th anniversary in October of 2009. Since its grand opening for a “Holiday on Ice” show on October 29, 1959, the Coliseum Complex has evolved into one of the most unique sports, entertainment and convention facilities in the country.
Over the past five decades, the Complex has hosted an incredible variety of events and famous celebrities as well as more than 57 million patrons.
The idea of creating a community war memorial was first proposed by former Mayor William Sullivan in 1944, but it would not be until 1956 that voters approved a bond for the project. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in January of 1958, and later that year the inaugural advisory board (entitled the War Memorial Commission) was formed and Charles T. Hagan, Jr was appointed chairman.
Completed in 1959 at a cost of $4.5 million, the original Complex consisted of a War Memorial Auditorium, Town Hall Auditorium, Blue Room and Greensboro Coliseum. The Coliseum had a seating capacity of 7,100 seats, making it one of the largest arenas on the East Coast.
In its 50-year history, the Complex has had only four managing directors - Bob Kent
(1958 – 1969), James Oshust (1970 – 1985), James Evans (1986 – 1994) and Matt Brown (1994 – present).
The Coliseum’s rich history of hosting sporting events is highlighted by its long and distinguished list of ACC and NCAA basketball action. The Coliseum has hosted 23 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) men’s basketball tournaments (more than any other venue) and every ACC women’s basketball tournament since 2000. The Coliseum has also hosted 12 NCAA men’s tournament competitions, including the memorable 1974 Final Four, and three NCAA women’s tournaments. Looking beyond college basketball, the Coliseum has served as the home for professional basketball (the Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association), several professional ice hockey franchises (including the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes for two seasons), two indoor football teams and has hosted a multitude of tennis, boxing, track and field, amateur and professional wrestling and gymnastics events.
Family events have been a staple of the Coliseum calendar since its inception in 1959. “The Greatest Show on Earth,” (Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus), Disney ice and stage shows and live productions featuring Sesame Street characters make annual stops at the Coliseum Complex to the delight of thousands of youngsters each year.
The Coliseum Complex has also played host to a multitude of politicians, religious figures and world leaders, including recent visits from Barack Obama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Joel Osteen.
Concerts featuring the top names in the music industry have spanned generations and all genres of music. Millions of concert goers have been enjoyed the sounds of an incredibly diverse lineup of performers, including, to name just a few: Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Britney Spears and Jay-Z. The Coliseum’s all-time concert attendance record was set March 1, 2003 when 23,642 “Phish-heads” packed the arena to see the legendary touring band Phish.
50 Historic Dates in Greensboro Coliseum Complex History
1. October 29, 1959 – the Coliseum Complex hosts its first-ever event, a Holiday on Ice show. Over six performances (through November 3rd) the show draws 37,447 patrons. Annual ice shows such as Disney On Ice, would become a staple of family events at the Coliseum.
2. November 11, 1959 – the Coliseum hosts its first-ever hockey game as 3,014 turn out to watch the Greensboro Generals of the Eastern Hockey League defeat the Washington Presidents 4-1.
3. December 12, 1959 – the first college basketball game in Coliseum history sees the North Carolina A&T Aggies trounce Elizabeth City State Teachers College 106-83. The Aggies, the defending Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) champs, are led by team captain Al Attles’ 22 points.
4. December 16, 1959 – the Coliseum hosts its first-ever ACC basketball game as NC State loses to Villanova, 68-56. A month later, the Coliseum hosts its first all-ACC game with the University of North Carolina beating Wake Forest 62-59.
5. March 1960 - Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to town for the first of what becomes an annual visit by the “Greatest Show On Earth.” The Circus has played the Coliseum for nearly 500 performances over 50 consecutive years to the delight of over 3,486,000 fans.
6. August 17, 1960 –Presidential candidate Richard Nixon bumps his knee against a car door that leads to him being hospitalized for a staph infection. The injury causes him to perform poorly in his first debate with John F. Kennedy. Nixon would later claim the Greensboro campaign stop cost him the election.
7. 1963 - The Greensboro Generals win the EHL (Eastern Hockey League) championship. Pat Kelly scores the winning goal in the team’s most memorable game in the Coliseum, a two-overtime, 96-minute thriller in the championship series.
8. November 12, 1965 – The Rolling Stones perform at the Coliseum. The “World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band” would return for shows in 1975 and 1978, performing for over 38,000 fans over their three Coliseum appearances.
9. March 9-11, 1967 – Coliseum hosts the Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament for the first time. UNC beats Duke 82-73 to win the first Greensboro Tournament as legendary Tar Heel coach Dean Smith wins his first league title.
10. Fall 1969 – Professional basketball comes to the Coliseum as the Carolina Cougars of American Basketball Association (ABA) start their first season. The Cougars top season was the ‘72-73 campaign in which they were led by Billy Cunningham (league MVP) and Larry Brown (Coach of the Year).
11. December 29, 1970 – The Jackson Five, including Michael Jackson, perform at the Coliseum. The brothers would return on five other occasions, including a July 10, 1979 performance that draws 14,490 fans.
12. January 23, 1971 – the Coliseum hosts the ABA All-Star Game. The East team bests the West 126-122 before a crowd of 14,407. Mel Daniels of the Indiana Pacers takes home Game MVP honors.
13. April 14, 1972 – Elvis Presley performs in Greensboro for the first time. Elvis would play the Coliseum four additional times over the next five years. His last Coliseum performance (4/21/77) would be just four months before his tragic death in August of 1977.
14. March 1974 – The NC State Wolfpack beats Maryland 103-100 in overtime to capture the ACC title in what many consider the greatest college basketball game of all time.
15. March 1974 - In Greensboro’s only Final Four, NC State beats UCLA in double-overtime to end the Bruins’ streak of seven consecutive national titles before defeating Marquette to take the national title.
16. January 29, 1983 – Basketball superstar Michael Jordan leads the University of North Carolina Tar Heels to a 72-65 win over Georgia Tech. Jordan registers his highest scoring game as a Tarheel, scoring 39 points before 14, 423 at the Greensboro Coliseum
17. March, 1983 - Greensboro’s Page High School plays Goldsboro High School for the NCISAA State Championship. Pirate stars Danny Manning and Haywood Jeffires (Tournament MVP) lead the Pirates in defeating Goldsboro for the state championship in front of 13,000 fans.
18. November 24, 1983 – A sold-out crowd Coliseum crowd of 15,419 watches “good guy” Ric Flair beat Harley Race during Starrcade, the first wrestling event ever shown on closed-circuit TV.
19. January 18-19, 1985 - “The Boss” hits Greensboro as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band perform for more than 30,000 fans over a two-night stand. In all, Springsteen has appeared seven times at the Coliseum, and owns two of the top 10 all-time concert attendance records.
20. March 31- April, 1991 – the Grateful Dead come to Greensboro for a two-night stand, drawing more than 29,000 “Dead Heads”. The band would later return on Easter Sunday of April, 2009 to kick off its first tour in five years.
21. December 28, 1992 - In its first Pizza Hut Invitational (then called the Little 4) appearance, Greensboro Day School wins the championship in a 66-63 overtime thriller vs. Dudley High School. Since that time, GDS has won the tournament nine times, while Dudley leads all schools with 10 championships.
22. December 1993 - the Coliseum Complex reopens after undergoing extensive renovations. The renovations include increasing the Arena seating capacity to 23,500, renovation of the upper and lower concourses, additional locker room facilities, the creation of a media room and expansion of the Special Events Center.
23. February 26-27, 1993 - the Complex hosts the Woodworking & Furniture Show, which evolves into the Carolina’s Industrial Woodworking Expo. The Complex would go on to host the event each February, bringing in approximately 1.1 million pounds of freight to completely fill the 120,000-square-foot Special Events Center.
24. January 15, 1994 – The Coliseum claims an East Coast Hockey League attendance record as 20,908 hockey fans come out to watch the Greensboro Monarchs take on the Charlotte Checkers.
25. August 1994 – Unknown 23-year-old angler Bryan Kerchal, becomes the first “amateur” to win the BASS Masters Classic. Before a record crowd of over 23,000, Kerchal unveils a 36-pound, seven-ounce bass caught on North Carolina’s High Rock Lake to take the title.
26. March 9-12, 1995 – Wake Forest beats Duke, Virginia and North Carolina (in overtime) to win the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament before a sell-out crowd of 23,311. The Tournament is highlighted by the spectacular play of Wake Forest guard Randolph Childress who leads the Deacons to their first league crown since 1962.
27. June 1996 – the Coliseum Complex hosts training sessions for the US Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team in their preparations for the ‘96 Games in Atlanta. The “Magnificent 7,” as they would later be known would go on to win the first ever Gold Medal for the U.S. in the Women's Team Competition.
28. January 18, 1997 – The Carolina Monarchs set a new all-time single game American Hockey League attendance record of 20,672 for the team's 5-4 victory over the Kentucky Thouroughblades.
29. June, 1997 – The Coliseum hosts 14,293 patrons for the first of what would become the annual Superjam concert series. Presented by Entercom radio, Superjam would become a summer tradition, drawing some of the biggest names in urban music.
30. October 10, 1997 – the Coliseum hosts the first-ever regular season NHL game in the Carolinas as 18,661 see the Carolina Hurricanes (formerly Hartford Whalers) fall 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Hurricanes would call the Coliseum home for two seasons (97-98 & 98-99).
31. Thanksgiving Weekend 1998 - The Craftsmen's Christmas Classic celebrates its 25th Anniversary with 27,000 visitors, a record number of participating artists and craftsmen and a spectacular fireworks show at the end of opening day.
32. March 1999 - the Coliseum hosts an NCAA Women’s Basketball Regional for the first time. In the Regional Final, Duke upsets three-time defending champion Tennessee before a record breaking crowd of 11,133.
33. November, 1999 – Over 11,000 fans erupt in laughter as the “Original Kings of Comedy” (Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer) hit the stage at Greensboro Coliseum. Produced by Greensboro-based Latham Entertainment, the tour takes the comedy world by storm, playing sold out arenas from coast to coast. The tour would also spawn subsequent Kings (and Queens) of Comedy Tours and later be made into a hit film by acclaimed director Spike Lee.
34. December 1999 – In the fastest concert sell-out in Coliseum history, over 22,000 tickets for a Backstreet Boys concert are purchased in a mere 78 minutes. The concert would go on to gross over a million dollars in ticket sales and set a then Coliseum attendance record of 22,450.
35. April 16, 2000 – the Coliseum hosts arena football for the first time as the Greensboro Prowlers of the arena football 2 (af2) league make their debut. Playing in front of a sold out crowd of 12,571, the Prowlers beat the Roanoke Steam 37-22.
36. February 17, 2001 – the Coliseum hosts Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band to the delight of 21,221 Parrotheads who make up the third largest concert crowd in Coliseum history. Despite chilly February temperatures, fans clad in Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts flock to the Coliseum parking lot for tailgating.
37. April 28, 2001 - The Coliseum hosts piano legends Billy Joel and Elton John in concert, drawing a sold-out crowd of 21,935. The concert, sets a new Coliseum record for the highest gross tickets sales total ($2,042,490) and finishes as the fifth-highest attended concert in Coliseum history.
38. March 1-4, 2002 – The Coliseum hosts the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament in the event’s 25th Anniversary season. The Tournament ends with Duke beating North Carolina to capture the crown before a Championship game record crowd of 9,204.
39. January 20, 2003 – The Coliseum hosts the five-game North Carolina Scholastic Classic drawing a crowd of 16,220, a state record for high school basketball. The premier attraction of the day pits Winston-Salem’s RJ Reynolds versus Ohio’s St. Vincent-St. Mary which is led by future NBA superstar LeBron James.
40. March 1, 2003 - The Coliseum sets a new single-day concert attendance mark with a sold-out crowd of 23,642 to the see the group Phish. The concert was the band’s last stop on its tour, its only date in the Southeast and the largest indoor arena crowd ever for a Phish concert.
41. March 10, 2003 -The ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament sells out its championship game (11,126) for the first time ever and sets an overall attendance record of 33,641. Top-seeded Duke beats the University of North Carolina 77-59 to capture the title.
42. March 7-16, 2003 – In the ACC’s 50th Anniversary season, the Coliseum hosts both the conference’s women’s and men’s basketball tournaments, marking the first time a facility hosted both tournaments back-to-back in the same venue (the Coliseum would repeat the feat in 2004 and 2006).
43. February 22, 2004 – Legendary country crooner George Strait performs for a crowd of over 17,000. The concert was originally scheduled for Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), but due to a sore throat, Strait was forced to postpone a concert for just the fifth time in the 20 years.
44. October 3, 2005 – Thousands of hopefuls from across the nation come to tryout as the Coliseum hosts auditions for the “American Idol” television program. Highlights from the auditions would air in January of 2006 as part of the mega-hit show’s fifth season.
45. March 2006 - The Coliseum hosts the ACC Women’s and men’s basketball tournaments and NCAA Men’s tournament over back-to-back-to-back weeks. It will mark the first time in history the same arena will host three post-season college basketball tournaments in successive weeks and the three-week stretch includes 28 games in 10 days.
46. June 14, 2006 – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the featured speaker on the final day of the four-day Southern Baptist National Convention. The Convention is the largest annual gathering of any religious organization in the world and the 2006 convention marked the first meeting in North Carolina since 1916.
47. March 16, 2008 – The Coliseum hosts Bon Jovi in concert, with special guest Daughtry. The night is a homecoming for frontman Chris Daughtry, a Guilford County native, who joins Bon Jovi on stage to the delight of the crowd of 22,115, the third largest concert crowd in Coliseum history.
48. March 26, 2008 – Senator Barack Obama hosts a Town Hall Meeting at War Memorial Auditorium during his Presidential campaign tour. Obama would later be elected the nation’s 44th President.
49. December 5, 2008 – Amid enthusiastic support from cheerleaders and the UNCG student “Blue Crew”, Chancellor Linda Brady announces the Spartans men’s basketball program will move to the Coliseum beginning with the 2009-2010 season. The Spartans’ first season will include four games versus ACC opponents.
50. September 8-13, 2009 – High Point native and former American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino stars in the Broadway touring production of "The Color Purple" at War Memorial Auditorium. The show draws rave reviews, selling out eight performances and drawing over 18,500 fans.