On a recent Friday in Portland, Oregon, it looked for all the world like an actual sporting event was taking place. There were cheerleaders and news cameras; they even cut down a basketball net. But in fact, all of this was to celebrate the opening of a sports bar, and Jamie Orr was first in line. “It feels like a very monumental day,” she said, “not just in Portland, but for women’s sports.”
That’s because this isn’t just any sports bar; it’s the first one in America that exclusively shows women’s sports on all its TVs.
If you’re mostly a fan of men’s sports, it would never even occur to you that a bar might not be showing the championship game, or might have the sound turned off. But that’s exactly what happened back in 2019, when Jenny Nguyen and her friends wanted to watch. “It ended up being just a spectacular game,” Nyugen told correspondent Luke Burbank.
The game was one for the ages, but the audio feed was non-existent, at least in the bar where Nyugen and her friends were watching. “Somebody was like, ‘Yeah, it would have been better if the sound was on!'” she said.
And so, Nguyen had a thought, that kind of thought you might have after a couple of beers but never follow up on: “I said something to the effect of, the only way we’re ever going to be able to watch a women’s game, like, in its full glory, is if we had our own place.”
Nyugen and her friends even had a name for this still-mythical bar she fantasized about opening some day: The Sports Bra. “You know, it just makes sense, switch a couple of letters around. I was like, I know what the tagline is going to be: We support women!” she laughed. “It was a big joke.”
But the joke got serious after the #MeToo movement and the pandemic had Nyugen looking for a way to make an impact on the culture, in whatever way she could: “The whole country was going through a phase of reprioritizing what was important.”
However, Nyugen’s mom, whom she’d been working for at their family real estate company, was dubious: “I yelled at her and I said, ‘This is not good. With the COVID and labor shortage, it’s not going to work.’ But she told me, she said, ‘Mom, you cannot stop me. I am doing it.'”
And so she did, raising over $100,000 on Kickstarter. Along the way, she and the bar became something of a media sensation. But the most challenging part of running the Sports Bra actually might be finding televised women’s sports to play at the bar.
Nyugen said, “Only 4% of all sports on TV are women’s sports. So, when you have that kind of a discrepancy, there’s going to be issues.”
But changing that might be part of Nguyen’s plan.
In the 50 years since the landmark Title IX legislation, millions of girls gained access to athletics. So, it’s not that women aren’t playing sports; it’s that the networks tend not to broadcast them.
Nyugen said, “I’m asking a lot of networks, streaming services and all of these things, questions that they’ve never encountered before. So, a lot of it is almost, like, taking your machete and cutting through the brush. It’s hard, and it’s a slog.”
On this night, however, there was no shortage of content. It was the semi-finals of the NCAA Womens’ Final Four. The Sports Bra would be packed, and the volume would be turned up all the way.
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Story produced by Anthony Laudato. Editor: Chad Cardin.