At The Sports Bra in Portland, it’s all women’s sports, all the time
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The United States loves sports. Whether it’s the World Cup, the Super Bowl or March Madness, Americans watch them all. Last year, Saturday Night Football on NBC and Thursday Night Football on Fox outpaced the rest of all television viewing — each pulling in 18 million and 15.4 million average viewers, respectively.
So, it stands to reason that, given the right opportunity, sports fans would be just as into the matches they tend to overlook. Such as, say, women’s sports.
She joined Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal to talk about the impact the bar is having. A transcript of their conversation is below and has been edited for clarity.
Kai Ryssdal: So give me the elevator pitch. You go to your investors, your potential partners, and you say, “Hey, here’s this idea I have.” What did they say?
Jenny Nguyen: All the investors I went to in the beginning, everyone was like, “It’s a hard no.” Three main reasons: One being it’s a restaurant and bar during COVID. Two, I’ve never done this before. And three, no one had ever done this before, so that was like, “We love this idea. But it is just way too risky.”
Ryssdal: Oh, but have a little faith, will you people! I mean, look at women’s sports. Look at women’s basketball; look at women’s soccer, for crying out loud, right? I mean, that had to have been part of the response.
Nguyen: Sure. I mean, a lot of people were like, “Wow, we can’t believe this has never happened before.” But then, you know, a lot of people also were on the same boat as what my dad’s first response was — which was, “There’s probably good reason why nobody has done it before.” So there was a lot of hesitation, a lot of doubt. And, you know, it was really scary on my end too because, again, I had no idea.
Ryssdal: I believe it was scary. I mean, you know, setting up a business has to be terrifying to begin with. But why did you feel you had to do this?
Nguyen: Oh, that’s a great question. It just felt like there were so many places where traditional sports bars were missing the mark, particularly for folks like us. And I mean women’s sports fans, but I also mean for nonbinary or queer folks, because oftentimes those spaces don’t feel safe. And then also, as far as the fear goes, it was really scary. And I was just like, you know, I can just continue to live my life and everything would be fine, and this is just an idea that comes and goes.
Ryssdal: Oh, you couldn’t do that.
Nguyen: No, I couldn’t. I mean, I started to think about, you know, if I were 9, 10, 15 or 17, and if my parents brought me into a place like The Sports Bra as a kid, what kind of an impact that would have had on me. And when I thought about that, I was like, “No, this has to happen, or at least I’m gonna give it a shot.”
Ryssdal: I will tell you, I got a Slack this morning from a colleague who had seen this interview on today’s rundown. And she said, “I took my soccer-obsessed daughter to The Sports Bra this summer when we visited Portland. Cool place.” So, your theory bears out in reality.
Nguyen: Yeah, it’s happening. And what’s fascinating to me is that there was a crowd that I was expecting. And I would say 80% of everyone that walks through that door is the crowd that I’m not expecting.
Ryssdal: Oh, say more about that. That’s interesting.
Nguyen: Yeah, so I thought like I was filling a niche market for women’s sports fans. But it turns out that The Sports Bra really resonates with so many people on so many different levels. Oftentimes, we’ll get people who don’t even watch sports, but they want to feel safe, they want to feel part of a community. And while they’re there, maybe they get swept up in a little fandom.
Ryssdal: So here comes the all-important question to the woman running a business: How’s business?
Nguyen: Business is good. You know, we started out absolutely jam-packed. It was like opening the doors to a line and then closing the doors to a line — which, you know, in all of my research, I was prepared for the opposite.
Ryssdal: So look, what are the expansion plans? Got to think big, right?
Nguyen: Yeah, you know, when I had written the business plan, I had thought about maybe a dozen major metropolitan cities in the country being a good spot for The Sports Bra. But now, after being open and having gotten just a lot of love from all across the globe, I’m having to kind of recalibrate my thoughts on expansion and or franchising.
Ryssdal: Super quick and then I’ll let you get back to running your business — the naming and the branding. Was it a no-brainer? Did you guys agonize over it with some, you know, branding consultant?
Nguyen: Oh, absolutely. It was a no-brainer. You know, my idea originally was just to have a sports bar, and all we were doing was changing the channel. And so that simple switch was what I thought of as a sports bar and a simple switch of two letters. And so once I said that, I was like, “Yeah, that’s sticking.”
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