The time-tested formula of big screen TVs playing the biggest NFL or MLB games works for many sports fans, but as Jenny Nguyen says, it doesn’t work for all sports fans.
That’s why when she created her own sports bar in Portland, she made it a mission to include one small but powerful change.
“We would have exactly what a sports bar [does], all we would do is change the channel,” Nguyen said. “To me it was just like, okay, if all we’re doing is changing the channel, all we do is take a sports bar, switch these two letters around, and it started this idea that the tiniest changes sometimes make the biggest difference.”
Nguyen opened the very first sports bar in the world airing solely women’s sports, called The Sports Bra.
The idea was years in the making, beginning as a funny idea among friends to address obstacles in trying to watch women’s sports at your typical bar, not feeling safe all of the time, pleading with the staff to turn on a women’s game and watching those games on a silent TV.
“I remember hugging a friend and being like, ‘That was the best game I’ve ever seen,’ and she said, ‘You know, it would’ve been so much better if the sound had been on,'” Nguyen said. “Out of frustration, I said, ‘The only way we’re ever gonna watch women’s sports in its full glory is if we had our own place.'”
That moment was in 2018. In the years that followed, the fictional Sports Bra was only an inside joke among her group of friends.
“We would have this fantasy place that we would refer to, and we’d be like, ‘Oh, at The Sports Bra, you know, gymnastics would be on,’ or, ‘Oh, at the Sports Bra, you know, they’d have gluten-free buns for our burgers,'” Nguyen said.
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In April 2022, The Sports Bra became reality, featuring a welcoming environment for all sports-themed cocktails, like the Title IX, and one unrelenting rule: Women’s sports only.
“You know, we get calls all the time of like … ‘Are you guys showing the Lakers game?’ And we’re like, ‘Who are the Lakers?'” Nguyen said.
It was a gamble, but The Sports Bra was quickly a success. It’s part of a nationwide pattern, as women’s sports viewership is skyrocketing.
A report by Samba TV released at the end of last year gave a glimpse at the audience year over year growth. Women’s 2022 March Madness viewership increased 81% compared to last year, the WNBA finals increased 171% and the National Women’s Soccer League championship had a 435% year-over-year increase.
Women’s sports also resonate with younger audiences. The report says 39% of Gen Z sports fans say they’re watching more women’s sports.
“With access to more content, people are getting more eyes on things that they haven’t [before], whether that’s through social media, through more streaming services or big network deals,” Nguyen said.
What can’t be calculated, however, is the community that’s being built and how people who feel safe and seen gathering in this bar, growing the fan base and growing collaborations.
“When you’re not having to fight for it, when you’re not having to defend it and it’s open and welcome, it creates that freedom of energy to just dream bigger,” Nguyen said. “It’s almost like a launching pad for the possibilities. You can come here, and you can see what is happening right now. Now what is next? Like, let’s dream bigger.”
Nguyen’s hope is that the success of The Sports Bra inspires other locations in the future and that her example of breaking the sports status quo inspires others to do the same.
“I just feel very, very optimistic about the future of women’s sports. It’s gonna take a lot of work, but we’re all here for it,” she said.
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