The Sigma Chi fraternity brothers had company this spring. Every day a construction crew came to work with a small armada of drills and electric saws. It should be noted that Sigma Chi’s brothers at the University of Oregon are not known to be morning people.
“It started out a bit bumpy; I’m not going to lie,” said Scott Trempe, 50, Sigma Chi’s longtime executive chef. “It was definitely the boys versus the contractors for a time. When the guys finally surrendered to what was happening, it worked out great.”
For a big event like the World Athletics Championships, taking place in Eugene, Oregon this month, sneaker and apparel companies would typically book a block of rooms in an upscale hotel to house staff and rent event space to entertain athletes and customers .
But Eugene isn’t a bustling metropolis with a plethora of accommodation options like the host cities of years past. This is not Berlin, Beijing or Doha, Qatar. It’s a quaint college town of 170,000, forcing businesses to scramble for available hotel rooms. Others rented modest houses near campus and turned them into their operational headquarters for the meeting.
Adidas and Puma tried it differently: they moved into frat houses.
At Chi Psi Lodge, a few blocks from Hayward Field, Puma has made a home, transforming a stately 85-year-old fraternity home into a “Puma House” complete with a canalside bistro, remodeled basketball court and game room and 25 freshly painted bedrooms with Puma-design bedspreads.
“It was a puzzle,” said Menno Snel, events manager at International Orange, the agency that worked with Puma on the project. “This was not your regular event in Paris where every resource was at your disposal.”
Sigma Chi has new furniture, a dedicated physical therapy room, a back office for product distribution, an ice cream bar, and a coffee shop that served stemless watermelon gazpacho on a recent afternoon. (Good luck finding a barrel.) Erriyon Knighton, an 18-year-old American sprinter who won a bronze medal in the 200 meters on Thursday, was relaxing on a couch in the courtyard. Several other Adidas-sponsored athletes took part in a foosball game.
Ethan Cupper, junior publicity major and president of Sigma Chi, recalled the day last winter when he heard someone wanted to do a bunch of work on the house in mid-July in exchange for a two-week stay.
“Wait,” he said, “the Adidas group wants it live in our fraternity house?”
In recent years Adidas had used Sigma Chi as the hospitality center for various high profile gatherings at Hayward Field. Before these meetings, the company would brush things up—a touch of color here, a dab of polish there. But the work was light, and visitors never ventured upstairs into the living quarters.
For the Worlds, Adidas spent months planning—and then executing—a massive renovation of the sprawling building that earned its own slot on HGTV.
“We took what we would have spent on hotel rooms and used it for that instead,” said Spencer Nel, head of global sports marketing for Adidas Running, as he gestured at the relative opulence around him. “And that’s what made it so appealing, because we’re going to leave something behind.”
Work at Sigma Chi began in late March, around the start of the spring semester.
“There were definitely some things that needed fixing,” Cupper said, “like holes in the walls.”
While the improvements were well appreciated — “It seemed like every week we woke up and there was something new going on in the house,” Cupper said — the fraternity brothers occasionally suffered a pang of nostalgia. One day they watched as the construction crew went into the backyard to remove several strips of artificial grass that the students had bought on Craigslist and installed themselves.
“That was exactly our hard work,” said Cupper. “But the new lawn looks really nice.”
The long process of renovating the fraternity’s 40 rooms began while the school was still in school, Nel said, making it a game of chess. The workers began with a few who were free. Once these were repaired, a group of brothers moved into them so their bedrooms could be made ready.
By the end of the school year, several of these renovated bedrooms were already in varying states of disrepair. (One resident – and you know who you are – had a fire extinguisher embedded in one of the walls as if it had been fired like a spear.)
Adidas removed all debris, replaced bedroom doors, fitted new beds and upgraded bathrooms. The Wi-Fi network has also been revamped, which was a big plus for the students and one of the reasons they were willing to put up with so much trouble this spring.
“Some of them are big gamers and stole each other’s megabytes,” said Sander Rodenburg, an executive at CIP Marketing, which led the project.
But there are reminders that it’s still Sigma Chi and not the Four Seasons. For starters, Sigma Chi has no central air. Adidas had hoped to remedy the situation with a fleet of air conditioners, but the building’s electrical circuits could only accommodate nine of them. For the track meeting, the air-conditioned rooms went to the bigwigs. Everyone else was content with fans on days with temperatures above 30 degrees.
The neighbors, on the other hand, are delighted with the fresh dark green color on the outside of the building.
“They actually stopped by to say thank you,” said Danny Lopez, Adidas’ senior manager of sports marketing.
Over in Chi Psi, Snel arrived this month when several frat brothers were about to move out.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of your house,” Snel told them.
Puma chose Chi Psi in large part, Snel said, because it was in great condition, having already been recently refurbished. But the project still required months of planning. Chi Psi handed over the keys on July 10, giving Snel and a crew of 20 five days to get it ready before the start of the Worlds.
“Pretty much no room was left untouched,” said Patrick Herbst, a former treasurer at Chi Psi.
One of the more rigorous parts of the process, Snel said, was a “deep clean” of the home that took almost three days. Towards the end it was a scramble with caterers, movers and sound engineers scurrying around. The home had to be ready to accommodate about 33 guests – Puma employees, coaches, agents and family members – as well as 2,500 Puma-branded ice cream treats shipped overnight from Los Angeles.
“Have one, please,” Snel said. “You are very good.”
At the same time, Puma tried to avoid clearing Chi Psi out of the house. So dozens of fraternity portraits composed annually stayed in place and lined the walls. The parents of Norwegian hurdler Karsten Warholm stayed in a bedroom down the hallway in the framed picture for Class of 2015-16, which prominently features a lovely pup named Kaleo, in charge of “sisterhood relationships.”
“I think that’s the beauty of it,” Snel said. “We tried to build on the history of the fraternity house and not completely turn it into some kind of sports brand activation.”
As part of their deal with Puma, the fraternity will keep most of the new furniture while benefiting from the renovations. Herbst, who graduated this spring, said he was jealous of the basketball court.
However, some of the changes are most likely temporary. For the Worlds, the upstairs bathroom at Chi Psi is now mixed, with women-only hours and urinals full of flowers.