Oregon’s Sports Bra, a pub for women’s sports fans, plans national expansion as interest booms

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — On a recent weekend night at this Northeast Portland bar, fans munched on pints and burgers while college women’s lacrosse and beach volleyball games played on big-screen TVs. The walls were covered with signed memorabilia from the female athletes, with a painting of NFL legend Abby Wambach hanging above the chalkboard beer menu.

Sports bra It’s a bar where women’s sports are celebrated – and the only thing on TV.

The bar, brimming with activity, has capitalized on a surge in interest in women’s sports, most recently exemplified by the obsession with the University of Iowa basketball phenomenon Caitlin Clark Record-breaking feats.

Just two years after opening, the pub this week announced plans to expand across the country through a franchise model.

“Things happened at the speed of light compared to what I expected,” founder and CEO Jenny Nguyen told The Associated Press. “This little spot that my friends and I built to watch the matches and give their flowers to the female athletes means so much more. And not just to me, but to a lot of people.”

Under the plan, pubs and entrepreneurs elsewhere will be able to apply to use The Sports Bra brand for their franchises. Nguyen is open to working with people who already have a physical space, as well as those who may only have a business plan. What matters, she said, is that potential future partners share The Sports Bra’s values.

One ambitious partner is Jackie Ryu, who hopes to open a franchise in Cincinnati, where she works as CEO of a media and marketing agency. During an interview on The Sports Bra, where she happily watched her college’s women’s lacrosse team on a TV, she said such institutions “celebrate women’s sports and the heroes and athletes behind the story.”

“It’s exciting to see it grow and gain such popularity,” Ryu said of the bar. “It’s such a moment now for women’s sports.”

The expansion will be fueled by funding from a foundation set up by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who is married to tennis legend Serena Williams. Nguyen said she has already received hundreds of inquiries.

Interest in women’s sports is at an all-time high, thanks to Clark’s exploits this year, when she broke the women’s and men’s NCAA scoring records. The championship game between Iowa and South Carolina was tied on April 7 18.9 million viewers on averagePast the crowd for the men’s title match for the first time.

A week later, a record 2.45 million viewers averaged the WNBA Draft to watch Clarke go to the WNBA draft Indiana fever as Choice No. 1. It was reported this week that she was close to signing on $28 million deal with Nike This will be the richest sponsorship contract for a women’s basketball player.

The growing interest is not only limited to women’s basketball, but to other sports as well. the Women’s World Cup 2023 A record attendance of nearly 2 million fans was reported. A University of Nebraska volleyball game, held on a football field, attracted more than 92,000 people last August, a record high. World record For the largest attendance at a women’s sporting event.

“It’s kind of like this peak eyeballs moment,” said Lauren Anderson, director of the Warsaw Center for Sports Business at the University of Oregon. “It was just the alignment of so many things that created this incredible moment for women’s sports that seems like little more than a flash in the pan.”

As the fan base and engagement grows, so does the desire to change the sports bar culture that has traditionally been concerned with men’s athletics. Other establishments like The Sports Bra have recently opened elsewhere: their own bar began operating in Minneapolis earlier this year, and SeattleRough & Tumble launches in late 2022.

Sports bars haven’t always been welcoming places for women, Nguyen said. A fan since childhood, she would gather groups of friends to go because she didn’t feel safe going alone. She recalled encountering male environments that made her uncomfortable, and bartenders who refused to change the channel to a women’s game.

“This is exactly what we agreed on,” she said. “When I wanted to step back and kind of upend the status quo, that’s when I really started looking at how important the sports bra was and changing the narrative on sports bars.”

One memory in particular stands out for Nguyen from her time as the stadium owner: Serena Williams’ last match, in 2022. A large crowd showed up to watch, spilling onto the sidewalk. People outside covered their eyes with their hands as they looked through the windows to see the screens.

“When Serena scored a point, I swear to God, I thought the glass was going to break. My eyeballs were shaking inside my head,” Nguyen said. “And then when they were shooting, it was like you heard a burger flipping in the kitchen.”

Finally, I felt tears flowing. She passed out two boxes of tissues to customers who were similarly crying as everyone enjoyed Williams’ final minutes on the court.

“I remember taking a deep breath and thinking: I don’t know if there’s a single place on the face of the planet that’s having this exact moment,” Nguyen said. “It was amazing.”

Fans still find it difficult to watch women’s sports games, because many of them are not broadcast on television and require different streaming subscriptions, said Tarlan Chahardovali, an assistant professor in the Department of Sports and Entertainment Management at the University of South Carolina.

Women’s sports bars can be a reliable destination for many events by having those subscriptions. But more broadly, Chahardovali said, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure the media market does not devalue women’s sports.

“It’s hard to ignore today’s numbers, and I think this is a very exciting time,” she said. “But it is a moment that needs to be preserved and sustained, and it needs continued investment.”

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