Restaurant Showing Only Women’s Sports to Expand in US

02 May 2024

There is a place in Portland, Oregon where people like to spend time enjoying food and drinks and watching sports on television.

Places like it are called sports bars in America. This sports bar in Portland has an unusual name. It is called The Sports Bra, and it only shows women's sports events on television.

A sports bra is a piece of under clothing that many women wear while exercising.

The Sports Bra founder and CEO Jenny Nguyen poses for a photo at the sports bar on Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
The Sports Bra founder and CEO Jenny Nguyen poses for a photo at the sports bar on Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

The Portland sports bar is getting so popular that some well-known investors are getting interested. They include Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of social media service Reddit. They want to expand The Sports Bra restaurants all over the U.S. Ohanian is also the husband of one of the world's most famous female athletes – Serena Williams. He runs an investment fund that will help businesspeople open restaurants in their cities.

Jenny Nguyen founded The Sports Bra. She said she only wanted to create a little restaurant. She is surprised by the interest in her business. "Things have happened at light speed," Nguyen said.

The time appears to be right for bars like The Sports Bra because of the sudden interest in women's sports. There are other successful bars that only show women's sports, but have different names, in cities including Minneapolis, Minnesota and Seattle, Washington.

The recent women's college basketball championship in the U.S. was the most-watched ever. Almost 19 million people watched the final game on April 7. For the first time, that was more than watched the men's final game.

One week later, 2.45 million people watched the WNBA draft. The event is where professional teams choose college players to play for them. People wanted to see the Indiana Fever pick the University of Iowa's star player Caitlin Clark. Clark recently signed a $28 million contract to advertise for Nike shoes.

Interest is increasing for other women's sports. Almost 2 million fans went to women's World Cup soccer games in Australia and New Zealand last year. A women's volleyball game played in a football stadium in Nebraska brought in 92,000 fans last August. It was the largest-ever crowd for a women's sports event.

Lauren Anderson is director of the Warsaw Sports Business Center at the University of Oregon. She called the current time a "pinnacle moment," adding that women's sports seem to be "more than just a flash in the pan."

Nguyen said sports bars were not always welcoming to women. A sports fan all her life, she said she would only go to sports bars with friends because she felt uncomfortable going alone. She remembered that people who worked at the bar would not always put women's sports on the televisions.

She said she wanted to start The Sports Bra to "flip the status quo." And now that the restaurant has been in business for several years, she has a favorite memory. It came in 2022 when a large crowd came to watch Serena Williams' final match. People cheered loudly when Williams made a good shot, and the whole bar was quiet when the players were hitting the ball back and forth.

Toward the end, she said, many people got emotional thinking that they would never see Williams play again. They started crying, and Nguyen passed out facial paper so people could wipe away their tears.

Williams' final match was on television all over the world, but fans came to enjoy it together. Nguyen said people were watching through the windows because there was not enough space inside.

But not every women's sport is easy to find. College and Olympic sports like water polo, volleyball, tennis, softball and others are rarely on big TV channels. It can be costly to purchase a special TV channel that only carries smaller sports events. A place like The Sports Bra offers those unusual games for people wanting to see them.

But not everyone likes going to a place like a sports bar to watch games on television.

Joanna is a fan who was walking into a recent professional baseball game in San Diego.

"I don't think I would go. I don't really like going to watch sports at bars. I'm more of like a ‘live, in-person' (fan)."

She was with Alex, who said he probably would go:

"It would be interesting. I mean, it depends on what sport I'm watching. I do watch the WNBA once in a while on the TV. And also, like, pickleball, those are the co-eds and the singles, women's, so I mean, I would watch it."

One fan, Shreya, was standing outside of a sports bar watching the end of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball game on television. She said she would go to The Sports Bra but said she wants to be sure it is not just a scheme to get people into the bar.

"I follow the WNBA. The local (San Diego) Wave (women's) soccer team. I have two girls. Assuming it has some sort of family-friendly vibe, like a restaurant and bar, it would be cool. The reason for the pause was because I don't feel like it should be segregated. I would want it to be at par with men's sports.'"

One expert agrees. Tarlan Chahardovali is an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina in the department of Sport and Entertainment Management. Chahardovali said there is still work to be done to make sure the media market does not undervalue women's sports. She said there needs to be investment to be sure the current popularity does not disappear.

"Today's numbers are hard to ignore, and I think it's a very exciting time," she said.

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Gena Bennett.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on reports by the Associated Press and his reporting in San Diego.


Words in This Story

draft –n. an event that happens in certain national sports every year in which team officials choose college players to play professionally for their teams

pinnacle –n. the highest point

flash in the pan –idiom something that gets attention for a little while and then disappears

flip –v. to turn upside down

status quo –expression the way things are right now

co-ed (coeducational) –adj. (dated) educating men and women in the same school

scheme –n. a plan to trick people

vibe (vibrations) –n. the feeling you get from a person or thing

segregated –adj. having groups separated

at (on) par –phrase equal to