By the time Robert Wood ("Woody") Johnson IV purchased the New York Jets in 2000, the organization had long been dismissed as runner-up in a two-team town.
In the past year, much of that stigma has dissolved. Some credit goes to fiery new head coach Rex Ryan. Some goes to Mark Sanchez, the young quarterback who, in his rookie season, led the team to within a game of the Super Bowl.
But hidden away on a 27-acre expanse in Florham Park, New Jersey, sits what is perhaps the organization's most significant new asset: a 120,000-square-foot shrine to athletic and corporate excellence. The Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, houses five football fields, immaculate and sunny open-plan offices, and—this is a sports franchise, after all—many dozens of TVs tuned to ESPN and the NFL Network. "We wanted to create something that was not just an operating structure," Johnson says. "We also wanted a place people were proud to come to every day."
The complex is the key to a new emphasis on providing a superior workplace that unites the business and football sides of the organization. This emphasis on employees is in large part inspired by a similar focus at Johnson & Johnson, the health care giant co-founded by Johnson's great-grandfather.
"Good architecture," Johnson says, "should help a company with its mission."
Players get first priority for use of the fieldhouse, which has a clearance of 95 feet so punters don't have to worry about hitting the roof. But when the team isn't using it, employees have access. The same goes for the team's gym. For a nominal fee, the organization also provides breakfast, lunch, and snacks throughout the workday, featuring a salad bar, organic fruits and vegetables, and grass-fed beef. The Jets recently switched food vendors to one with more organic and low-fat offerings. "It seems like a pretty good goal for us to be the healthiest team in the league," Johnson says. "From me to the guy who takes care of the grass."
Work to Do
Employees pass the Jets's lone Super Bowl trophy upon entering the front lobby every morning -- a reminder of the company's history as well as a confirmation that everyone has a role in the mission. The ambition behind the facility has imbued the business side with new energy. "The progress the team made last season, coupled with the new building, just put all the pieces together," says Jocelyn Norman, an executive assistant. "We moved into a new space; that was phenomenal. We got a new coach; that was phenomenal. The team played really well; that was phenomenal. Now we have the new stadium. I think everything being new is like a total turnaround for the Jets. And everyone here feels some part of that."
Before the Jets's new headquarters opened in fall 2008, business operations were run out of offices in Manhattan, while the football staff occupied space at Hofstra University on Long Island. "When you're not working together and you're not seeing the players, not seeing the field," says Matt Higgins, executive vice president of business operations, "it kind of becomes a little bit of an abstraction. Like it's just another job. If you're not around it, you can miss the power of it." That disconnect is now gone. The panoramic views of the outdoor fields from nearly all the offices are constant reminders for employees of the business they are in. As are the free season passes.