Portland’s The Sports Bra is the first bar in the world to exclusively air women’s sports
This month, the world’s first and only sports bar only televising women’s sports opened in Portland, Oregon. For owner Jenny Nguyen, the name was obvious: she called it The Sports Bra.
“We opened Friday, April 1st, the day of Women’s Final Four, which was absolutely bonkers,” said Nguyen. “Like, I knew it was going to be busy but I had no idea just how busy. Then Saturday was a [Portland] Thorns [FC] game and then Sunday was the championship game. So talk about a big grand opening weekend!”
Nguyen is a former chef and lifelong basketball player.
“I like to joke that I put down the milk bottle and picked up a basketball,” said Nguyen.
A few years ago, Nguyen, and a group of her basketball-loving friends, went to a bar to watch the NCAA women’s finals championship game.
“There’s probably over 30 TV screens in this bar and none of the screens had the game on,” said Nguyen. “We’re like, ‘Hey, can you change it to the NCAA finals?’ And [the server’s] like, ‘Of course, no problem.’ It’s kind of off to the side of the bar on a smaller TV. It ended up being this fantastic game; a last second three pointer to win it. And so we kind of went nuts. And then, as we were leaving, I was like, ‘Man, that was such a great game!’ One of my friends was like, ‘Yeah, it would have been better if the sound had been on.’ I realized that we had just gotten so used to watching women’s sports in a limited capacity that I didn’t even notice. So I made this off-hand comment, ‘The only time we’ll be able to watch a women’s game in its full glory is if we have our own place.'”
And now that place exists. The Sports Bra will air whatever women’s sports content it can get its hands on, from the WNBA and soccer to softball, women’s college sports, and even some high school games.
“The majority of girls quit playing sports after they’re 15 to 17 years old,” said Nguyen. “A lot of the reasons why, when they were polled, is because they don’t see a future for themselves in it. When you’re growing up playing sports as a girl and all you’re seeing on TV, professionally or collegiately, is men’s sports… How are you going to think that you can keep doing that?”
Nguyen says she and her girlfriend have been thinking back to when they were young girls playing basketball.
“What it would have meant to us if our parents took us to a place where we could see women playing sports on TV,” said Nguyen. “Seeing people at the bar and restaurant cheering for women on TV. How impactful that would have been for us as girls. I was like, ‘That’s it, we’re going to make the place all ages.’ It’s important to give that representation and for families to be there, whether it’s boys or girls.”
The themes of community and female empowerment are weaved throughout The Sports Bra. When putting together the menu, Nguyen made a point to seek out female food purveyors, brewers and distillers. And she enlisted a local non-profit called Girls Build to have some tables made.
“They teach these young girls to build, use power tools, to measure, do construction,” said Nguyen. “I think it’s really important that the girls are able to build something and then bring their friends and families to the place and be like, ‘I built this and I am a part of this.’ Girls Build made little plaques for every table that show their name and how to donate. It’s the cycle of community that we’re trying to grow at The Sports Bra.”
Ironically, the only true challenge is finding enough women’s sports content to show on the TVs.
“Statistically, about four percent of all sports that are shown on TV are women’s sports,” said Nguyen. “So that means 96% of all sports shown on television are men’s sports. It’s not that women aren’t playing, it’s that TVs aren’t showing it. And when people think about a sports bar, they think about a place where the TVs are 24/7 sports, whether it’s commentary or replays, interviews. All of those things that are commonplace for men’s sports but are very, very rare for women’s sports.”
Nguyen says there are huge swaths of time where women’s sports aren’t being broadcast on TV.
“I think it’s really powerful to use our platform to show the discrepancies,” Nguyen said. “When you walk into The Sports Bra and, let’s say, half the TVs are turned off. You’re going to ask, ‘Why is that?’ We’re at a women’s sports bar where our main goal is to show women’s sports and we can’t do it because it’s not on. I think that says a lot.”
Nguyen says 51% of female sport spectators are men and The Sports Bra welcomes absolutely everybody.