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Why The Sports Bra, a bar for women's sports, is expanding nationwide

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It has been a particularly great year for women's sports. Basketball superstars like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese dominated news headlines like they dominated March Madness, with record-breaking millions of viewers tuning in. And a bar that only plays women's sports on its TVs has announced that it is expanding. The Sports Bra just has one location in Portland, Ore., for now, but it hopes to go nationwide with a franchise model. CEO and founder Jenny Nguyen joins me now. Jenny, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JENNY NGUYEN: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

SUMMERS: I have to say, I am a huge sports fan, and I spend a lot of time at my own local sports bars. But I've never been to The Sports Bra. Give us a couple of examples and ways it might feel different to be a fan watching a game or a match there.

NGUYEN: I mean, I think that there is just a general vibe of belonging and representation, like inclusivity. At the beginning, when we first opened, we saw probably 95% girls and women and a lot of queer folks. But, you know, after, like, kind of that first initial wave of being open, we were really becoming, like, a cornerstone of the community for all folks. So I think that there's this general warmth, you know, the regular warmth of being surrounded by memorabilia, you know, some TVs, some music in the background and people just, like, having a good time with food and drink. And, like, the dedication to girls' and women's sports has a whole pretty magical vibe, if I do say so myself.

SUMMERS: You're expanding nationally with a franchise model, and I'm curious. I mean, that means giving away a little bit of the personal touch that you've brought to the Sports Bra there in Portland. Do you worry at all about the risk of getting away from the core values that you started with or perhaps futures who might not entirely align with your vision?

NGUYEN: You know, at the beginning, I put everything I had into making the Sports Bra as authentic and what I felt like the community needed as I could here in Portland. And when it went to me thinking about expansion at a more, like, finer level, I realized that I was born and raised in Portland. So whether I knew it or not, I was building a place that it felt like it needed. And when I thought about trying to expand that to other cities, I've realized that it would be impossible for me to go into another city and try to figure out what it was that that community needed or wanted.

You know, the franchise idea really came hand in hand with me realizing what the true mission of the Bra is, and it's a lot about authenticity, community, representation and connection and then, of course, building fandom, support and promotion of girls and women in sports. And so the idea that only I understand why the Sports Bra is important is totally inaccurate. I'm more concerned with me being, like, a control freak than me letting it - giving it to people to grow and build upon in their communities.

SUMMERS: Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who, I will just note, is the husband of Serena Williams, has invested in this idea. How does investing in fans of women's sports help sustain the teams and their athletes?

NGUYEN: Oh, my gosh. There are so many variables when it comes to how to support women's sports. And one of the biggest ones that I think is sometimes overlooked is fandom. There's tickets, where you put butts and seats. There's merchandise, where you buy as much merchandise as you can, and you rep it, and you become a walking billboard for that team or player. But there's something different to be said about being a fan of women's sports.

So I think that when it comes to creating fandom or building on fandom, giving space, like public spaces like the Sports Bra, people can bring their friends who maybe have never watched sports or say, oh, I'm not into sports, and just have, like, a gathering space to, like, casually bring them in, and then you can grow fandom because you can make a fan out of somebody like that.

Now we're seeing other women's sports bars opening up. Prior to that, really, it felt like fandom had to be found. Like, you had to already be a fan or have a curiosity. You go on the internet. You look it up. At the beginning, it was very difficult to figure out what schedules were, where to find it, what streaming service it's on and all of that. So making it accessible creates a whole other avenue for brand-new people to come in and enjoy fandom.

SUMMERS: It's impossible to miss how big of a moment this has been for women's sports across the board. There's just been so much attention. But I think that a question that a lot of people might have is whether this interest is sustainable or whether it might fade. What do you think?

NGUYEN: I absolutely feel like there has been women's sports fans for decades, and people who are now just starting to, like, see what has been growing - everything's kind of coming to an inflection point. I 1,000% agree. This year has been bonkers for breaking records. I do not see anything turning back. Like, we're getting more teams, more leagues. More professional leagues are getting introduced. They're finally starting to get the media deals. All of these things are things that they've always - women athletes have always deserved. You know, people say it's not a moment. It's a movement, and the movement is just skyward.

SUMMERS: Jenny Nguyen is the CEO and founder of The Sports Bra. Jenny, thank you.

NGUYEN: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF TECHNOTRONIC SONG, "PUMP UP THE JAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.