How would you create the perfect environment for the leading sports apparel company in the world? It should be healthy, green and full of motivational propaganda. Nike’s estate in Beaverton, Oregon is a rather classic example of company campus infused with all the characteristics of contemporary experience economy and corporate branding.

Beaverton is the fifth largest city in Oregon with a population of 89,803 (2010 US Census) and a land area of 30.1 km2 (Marthens, 2016). The city is located in Washington County, one of the fastest developing areas in Oregon with a total population of 529,710 in 2010 (an increase of 15% from 2000 and of 42.94% compared to 1990) (Marthens, 2016). Its growth is closely related to the development of electronic industry, mainly chip plants in 1990 (Tektonics) which dramatically transformed the demographic composition of the area (Marthens, 2016). One fifth of its current population is foreign-born, and 30% have higher education diplomas. It is densely populated (4795 inhabitants/square mile vs. 4375 inhabitants/square mile in the city of Portland) yet it does not look like a city or a suburb. “It’s difficult to get your ‘arms around’ Beaverton because it really is numerous villages within a city” (Marthens, 2016).

Similar to Bentonville, Walmart’s hometown, Beaverton is the signal for a new type of urbanisation defined as a “technoburb” (Fishman, 1996), a suburban environment without a core city but with social and economic characteristics similar to a global city. In the past years, the area has won many national awards (City of Beaverton, 2014) and is recognised as the safest city in the Pacific Northwest; in 2012 the city was awarded the Mayor’s Climate Protection Award from the US Conference of Mayors; it is recognised as a “Smart City” energy leader by the Natural Resources Defence Council; one of the 100 Best Places to Live in America by Money Magazine; best place to raise kids by BusinessWeek magazine; one of the top 25 Suburbs for Retirement by Forbes; one of the 100 Best Walking Cities in America; the Recycler of the Year by the Association of Oregon Recycler; a Tree City USA by the Arbour Day Foundation; a Bronze Award Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists; and one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Communities.

Corporate Landscapes Nike Campus Beaverton

Nike World Headquarter Campus is a clear continuation of the corporate estate model

From 1990 on, the area is also the host for Nike’s World Headquarters, the largest seller of athletic footwear and athletic apparel in the world. Its offices are located in Nike’s 303-hectare campus (which has gone through a series of four expansions) and other two adjacent sites with a total number of 22 buildings and numerous sports facilities (Brettman, 2014b). The headquarters are home to Nike’s top hierarchical decision-making pyramid and are in charge of three of Nike’s four major markets along with the management of regional operations in the US, the Americas and Asia Pacific regions. The offices also play the lead role in research, product development and design for the entire group (Brenner et al., 2010).

Envisioning the future of sports equipment at the border between experience and technology

As mentioned before, Nike’s head office, the Beaverton estate is home to the company’s lead marketing office as well as the main R&D unit – Nike Sports Research Lab, focused on physiology, biomechanics, perception and athletic performance to inform product development (Nike Inc., 2016). The Sparq performance centre is also the place where the company has developed its new line of tech products consisting of wearables like the FuelBand and of complementary software solutions (Brenner et al., 2013).

The research facilities for sportswear are closed to the outside world and do not take advantage of open innovation. In contrast, the need to expand into new markets for tech products made Nike embark on a more open development strategy and through its partnership with the local startup-mentoring firm TechStars, it is actively trying to attract entrepreneurs to launch companies that would build on top of Nike’s new digital platform (Parker, 2013).

CorporateLandscales_Nike Beaverton Research Unit

Nike’s Research Unit in Beaverton Campus

Nike, a global corporate citizen

As a global brand, Nike’s corporate social-responsibility is very diverse and context-specific and comes from both the need for market differentiation and development of a better environment for its workers.

The company has slowly expanded its development towards environmental issues and a proactive policy in developing nations (Christiaanse and Höger, 2006) where its main subsidised production centres are located (Bangladesh, China, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam). Nike’s Shoe-Town in Guangzhou, China is a clear example of a philanthropic company town (Christiaanse and Hoger, 2006), similar to the ones from the beginning of the 20th century, providing socially oriented programmes and support to acquire affordable housing for its workers.

CorporateLandscapes Nike Factory China

Nike’s Yue Yuen factory in Guangzhou, China

In its two main markets, the US and Europe, Nike uses CSR as a tool to attract new customers by tapping into the rich urban subcultural landscapes of cities like London, New York and Berlin (Von Borries, 2004), sponsoring temporary night clubs, improvement of derelict sports fields and basketball courts and other activities that are intentionally positioned at the fringe of legality.

In the Portland region, Nike’s investment comes from a combination of both these approaches. It needs to maintain and develop a better relationship with its highly skilled local employees while attracting new talents from the region (Brettman, 2014a) and promoting a unique image of its brand for its hip customers. Its efforts are directed mainly towards the city of Portland, an area recognised for its vibrant apparel start-up community and its distinct socially oriented hip cultural background (Brettman, 2014a).

Nike’s efforts are also enforced by the competition with other global sportswear brands like Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, Under Armour, Puma and Fila that have all opened up offices in the area in an effort to attract local designers (Brettman, 2014a).

A cohesive corporate culture and high quality of life represent important aspects of Nike’s campus design. Through a number of services that Nike provides to its employees, it tries to compensate for the limitations of its isolated suburban campus. The company provides its staff with childcare services, dry cleaning, fitness programmes and takeaway food. Nike is also recognised by the US Environmental Protection Agency as one of the country’s top workplaces for commuters and it actively promotes alternative means of transportation for its workers with carpooling, buses, trains, biking and telecommuting (Hoeger and Christiaanse, 2007). The large campus is also serviced by a comprehensive bike-sharing system.

As the largest sports and leisurewear supplier in the world, Nike’s HQ provides its employees with a large number of sporting facilities: two fitness centres, an athletic field, two running trails and an outdoor multi-sport facility featuring two football courts, three volleyball courts and a play structure for children (Höger and Christiaanse, 2007). The campus also has a union building with restaurants, shops, meeting rooms and a library.

In the region, Nike is investing in Portland’s new bike sharing infrastructure (BIKETOWN) and providing the city with a unique branded bike design (Nike Inc., 2016). Nike has also invested in building the new Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene in collaboration with Knight University (Marthens, 2016). Through its Employee Grant Fund, Nike directs important sums towards local and regional non-profits and schools (Nike Employee Grant Fund, 2015).

Corporate Landscapes Nike Portland BikeTown

Nike’s Biketown in Portland

NikeTown is everywhere

Nike’s products are distributed under the Nike brand and Nike Inc. affiliated brands such as Brogan, Bauer Nike Hockey, Cole Haan, g Series, Hurley, Converse, Chuck Taylor, All Star, One Star, Jack Purcell, Starter, Team Starter, Asphalt, Shag and Dunkman (Brenner et al., 2013). Its global fleet of stores (excluding its large network of franchisers) comprise of 19 Niketowns, the company’s network of concept stores, over 200 Nike Factory Stores and 12 Nike Women stores (Brenner et al., 2013).

Nike’s approach to marketing is very focused on “lifestyle” branding (von Borries, 2003) and it is defining its products as an experience. Nike’s products have transformed into abstract “cultural signs” that reinforce a belief in a potential to get things done, to accomplish athletic achievements and “Just Do It” – rather than buying the apparel itself. This new relationship with the product allows Nike to better adapt to the changes on the market but also to expand its line of products in new ways by promoting new types of experiences associated with sports and healthier lifestyles (Mohamed, 2015). This is a very efficient way of mitigating the risks associated with a fluid and dynamic market like the fashion industry.

This experience is deeply embedded in the way the company designs its line of concept stores, Niketown, which first opened in 1990 in Portland (Farnum, 1996). Part sports museum, part Disneyland, the stores, each uniquely designed to fit its urban setting, have had a major impact on retail design but in many ways they still remain in line with traditional retail architecture (Klingmann, 2007). It is the way Nike has learned to adapt to the urban environment by actively contributing to subcultures that is more revolutionary and unique to the brand (von Borries, 2004). Nike is a strong promoter of low-cost, temporary architecture and revitalisation projects for neighbourhoods while securing an important profit by influencing the lifestyle of its clients to include Nike products or the ”Nike Style” (Christiaanse and Höger, 2006). Nike’s strategy of identifying and anticipating subculture trends ultimately allows it to initiate or steer these trends and feed its products into youth lifestyle worldwide.

Corporate Landscapes NikeTown Manhattan

Nike’s line of flagship stores, NikeTown

Nike also invests an important part of its marketing budget in brand ambassadors for its products and the links that it fosters with the sports community are clearly reflected in the naming of each of the buildings in its Beaverton campus. The campus designed by TVA Architects still resembles the classic modernist corporate estate with white buildings floating in a serene landscape. Here, Nike has put an important focus on maintaining the woodland area present on site while enhancing the existent water features located at its heart and creating a 5 ha lake. Its exterior design acts as an ideological backdrop that promotes a lively corporate workplace with a variety of outdoor venues. Inside, the same approach to theming found in Niketowns is present and it is not restricted to its visitor centre or museum. The design of all the offices contains references to sport achievements and to the company’s beginnings reinforcing the connection between the brand, sports and athletic success (Brenner et al., 2013).

Nike and Beaverton: a love-hate relationship

Corporate Landscapes Nike Campus Beaverton

The Nike Campus is located on unincorporated land, outside the administrative boundaries of Beaverton

Nike’s World Headquarters is located in an unincorporated area within but excluded from Beaverton’s city limits. The main relationship with the local and regional government structures revolve around maintaining the current situation along with other zoning and law exemptions that provide the company with lower property and corporate taxes (Brettman, 2013). In return, Nike promises larger investments in campus development along with an increase in the number of jobs it provides for the region (City of Beaverton, 2014). In order to reach this agreement, the company has reverted to different strategies through time, ranging from lawsuits to threats of moving its headquarters to the city of Portland or to other states (Marthens, 2016). With the incentives that it has obtained, Nike’s campus acts as a free zone where the campus is part of Washington County Oregon, while the areas around it are owned and managed by the city of Beaverton.

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