The brothers of Sigma Chi had company this spring. The construction crew came to work every day with drills and power saws. It should be noted that Sigma Chi brothers at the University of Oregon are not known as morning people.
“It started off a little rough; I’m not going to lie,” said Scott Tramp, 50, a longtime Sigma Chi cook. “Certainly the boys have been up against the contractors there for a while. Once the boys finally surrendered to what was going on, it worked out great. “
For a big event like this month’s World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore., shoe and apparel companies typically reserve luxury hotel rooms to house staff and lease event space to entertain athletes. and clients.
But Eugene is not a bustling metropolis with an abundance of housing like the host cities of years past. This is not Berlin, Beijing or Doha, Qatar. It’s a quaint college town of 170,000 that forces companies to scramble for affordable hotel rooms. Others rented modest houses near the campus, making them the meeting’s operational headquarters.
Adidas and Puma tried something different: they moved into frat houses.
At the Chi Psi Lodge, a few blocks from Hayward Field, the Cougars have outdone themselves, transforming an 85-year-old fraternity house into a “cougar house,” complete with a canal-side bistro, a renovated basketball court, a game room. and 25 freshly painted bedrooms featuring cougar-themed bedding.
“It was a puzzle,” said Menno Snell, events manager at International Orange, the agency that worked with Puma on the project. “This was not your regular event in Paris, where all the resources are available to you.”
Sigma Chi has new furniture, a dedicated room for physical therapy, a back office for product distribution, an ice cream bar, and a cafe that recently served watermelon gazpacho out of a stemmed glass at noon. (Good luck finding the barrel.) Erion Knighton, the 18-year-old American sprinter who won a bronze medal in the 200 meters on Thursday, was chilling on a patio couch. Several other Adidas-sponsored athletes have been involved in the game of soccer.
Ethan Cooper, a junior advertising major and president of Sigma Chi, recalled the day last winter when he heard someone wanted to do some work at the site in exchange for a two-week stay in mid-July.
“Wait,” he said, “the Adidas Corporation wants to alive At our fraternity house?”
In recent years, Adidas has used Sigma Chi as a hospitality center for various high-profile meetings at Hayward Field. Before these meetings, the company would do things – a touch of paint here, a plaster stain there. But the work was insignificant, and visitors never went upstairs to the living quarters.
For the World Cup, Adidas spent months planning — and then executing — a massive makeover to the sprawling building, worthy of its own time slot on HGTV.
“We took what we would have spent on hotel rooms and used that instead,” said Spencer Nell, head of global sports marketing at Adidas, as he gestured at the relative wealth around him. “And that’s what made it so attractive, because we’re going to leave something behind.”
Work at Sigma Chi began at the end of March, at the beginning of the spring term.
“There were definitely things that needed repair,” Cooper said, “like holes in the walls.”
While the improvements were greatly appreciated — “It seemed like every week we woke up and there was something new going on in the house,” Cooper said — the fraternity brothers endured occasional bouts of nostalgia. One day, they watched as a construction crew entered the backyard to remove several strips of artificial grass that the students had purchased on Craigslist and installed themselves.
“It was all our hard work,” Cooper said. “But the new pitch looks really nice.”
The long process of renovating the fraternity’s 40 bedrooms began while the school was still in session, Nell said, making it a chess game. Workers started a few that were vacant. Once they were renovated, a group of brothers moved in to tidy up their bedrooms.
By the end of the school year, several of the renovated bedrooms were already in various states of disrepair. (One resident—and you know who you are—left a fire extinguisher embedded in one of the walls as if it had been launched like a javelin.)
Adidas removed any and all foreign objects, replaced bedroom doors, installed new beds and modernized bathrooms. The Wi-Fi network was also repaired, which was a big plus for the students and one of the reasons they were willing to go through so much trouble this spring.
“Some of them are big players and they were stealing megabytes from each other,” said Sander Rodenburg, an executive at CIP Marketing, which ran the project.
But there are reminders that this is still Sigma Chi, not the Four Seasons. For starters, Sigma Chi has no central air. Adidas hoped to remedy the situation with a fleet of air conditioners, but the building’s electrical circuit could only accommodate nine of them. For the track meet, the rooms were air-conditioned for the victims. Everyone else got rid of the fans on days when the temperature exceeded 90 degrees.
Meanwhile, neighbors are delighted with the new coat of dark green paint on the building’s exterior.
“They actually came to thank us,” said Danny Lopez, Adidas’ senior manager of sports marketing.
Snell arrived at Chi Psi this month as several brothers were in the process of transitioning out of the fraternity.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of your house,” Snell told them.
Snell said Cougars chose Chi Psi in large part because it was in great shape, having already undergone recent renovations. But the project still took months of planning. Chi Psi handed over the keys on July 10, giving Snell and a crew of 20 five days to prepare before the World Cup.
“Pretty much no room was left untouched,” said Patrick Herbst, former Chi Psi treasurer.
One of the tougher parts of the process, Snelly said, was the “deep clean” of the house, which took nearly three days. It was a riot all the way, with caterers, movers and sound technicians scrambling. The house had to be ready for about 33 guests – Puma employees, coaches, agents and family members – plus 2,500 Puma-branded ice creams that were flown in overnight from Los Angeles.
“Please take one,” said Snell. “They are very good.”
At the same time, Puma tried to prevent Chi Psi from being removed from the house. So dozens of annual fraternity composite portraits remained in place, lining the walls. Norwegian wrestler Karsten Warholm’s parents were left in the bedroom from a framed composite of the class of 2015-16, which prominently features a cute puppy named Kaleo, who was responsible for “sorority relationships.”
“I think that’s the beauty of it,” Snell said. “We tried to build on the history of the fraternity house and not completely turn it into some sort of sports brand activation.”
As part of the deal with Puma, the fraternity will be able to keep most of the new furniture while enjoying the upgrades. Herbst, who graduated this spring, said he envied the basketball court.
But some changes are likely to be temporary. For the World Cup, the upstairs bathroom at Chi Psi is now covered, with women-only clocks and flower-filled urinals.