The Sports Bra, a Pub Toasting Female Athletes, to Franchise

Franchise News - The Sports Bra, a Pub Toasting Women Athletes, to Franchise

Reddit Co-Founder Gives Funds as Brand Seeks Value-Aligned Owners

When the big game is on tap, many Portland, Ore., residents head to The Sports Bra. That’s not a typo; it’s a reference to a start-up pub that celebrates female athletes and airs only women’s sports on its big-screen televisions. The Sports Bra is a winner among local consumers, and now with funding from a VIP source, founder and CEO Jenny Nguyen will franchise her business model around the United States. 

Nguyen’s success reflects a surprising business trend. During the onset of the pandemic in 2020, Wells Fargo’s Newsroom learned that women opened more businesses than they closed. From 2019 to 2023, women-owned businesses’ growth rate exceeded men’s by 94.3% for number of firms, by 252.8% for employment and by 82.0% for revenue, the Wells Fargo Newsroom found, and the research attributed the success to women’s ambition and grit.

The Sports Bra Franchise
With funding from Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian (center), The Sports Bra founder and CEO Jenny Nguyen (second to right) will franchise her business model around the United States.

The Sports Bra’s Birth and Growth

The Sports Bra began after a Kickstarter campaign in February 2022, according to Fast Company. Contributions snowballed, with the month-long fund drive reaching $105,000, twice what Nguyen hoped for, the publication reported. When The Sports Bra opened in April 2022, lines to get into the 40-seat pub trailed out the door and revenues approached $1 million the rest of that year. 

So what’s The Sports Bra like? The Associated Press reported that on a recent weeknight, fans watched beach volleyball and women’s lacrosse on the establishment’s TVs. The décor is spiked with sports memorabilia on the walls, including a painting of U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach above the chalkboard beer menu and a jersey worn by Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark, who recently turned pro.

The Sports Bra franchise
Photo credit: Shannon Dupre

Two-year-old Sports Bra has secured financial backing from the 776 Foundation created by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who happens to be the husband of tennis legend Serena Williams. He announced his support in an Instagram video. Ohanian launched the 776 Foundation in 2022 to battle inequity throughout the world, Fast Company stated, and he sees The Sports Bra as filling a void. All profits from the 776 Foundation’s investment will be channeled back into women’s and girls’ sports programs, USA Today said in an article. 

Franchising Plans

Hundreds of potential franchisees already have reached out about franchises. Nguyen, 43, told the AP that franchisees need to share The Sports Bra’s values, but otherwise she’s flexible: She will work with business owners who already have a physical location as well as entrepreneurs who have only their business plans at the beginning.

Fast Company says the brand will soon start accepting applications from potential franchisees and evaluate them based on two priorities: the depth of applicants’ knowledge of their communities and their commitment to Sports Bra values. “We’re choosing people,” Nguyen told the publication, “Community builders who are super-authentic.” 

The Sports Bra franchise

No particular cities have been targeted for franchises. “We’ll take applicants from everywhere,” Nguyen told Portland NBC-TV affiliate KGW. “Wherever the top applicants are, that’s where we’ll go.” What matters, Nguyen said, is that the potential future partners share The Sports Bra’s values. She told KGW that “we try to promote, empower, and support girls’ and women’s sports [and] our communities, and that’s everything from the beer on our tap list to the beef in our burgers.” 

While on assignment at The Sports Bra in Portland, An AP reporter interviewed businesswoman Jackie Reau, who hopes to open a franchise in Cincinnati. “It’s just such a moment right now for women’s sports,” said Reau, CEO of a media and marketing agency. “It’s exciting to see it grow and gain such popularity.” 

Nguyen’s Inspiration

Women’s sports have not always been welcomed at sports bars, however, said Nguyen, a former college basketball player and professional chef. Ever the sports fan, she would gather groups of friends to visit sports bars when she didn’t feel safe going solo. Nguyen recalled macho environments that made her uncomfortable along with bartenders who wouldn’t tune their TVs in to women’s games. 

“When I wanted to push back and kind of flip the status quo, that’s when I really started to dig in on how The Sports Bra could matter and change the narrative on sports bars,” the AP quoted her as saying. But she wasn’t 100% confident, Fast Company reported: “I had this idea,” Nguyen said. “I felt like it could work, but you never really know.” 

CNBC reported that her business plan had a persuasive observation when it evaluated threats to the business’s viability: “The only competition is the status quo,” Nguyen wrote. The worst-case scenario would be losing her life savings, $27,000, and moving into her parents’ basement to recover financially.  

Sports Bra Highlights

One memory in particular stands out for Nguyen as The Sports Bra’s proprietor: Serena Williams’ last-ever match in 2022. A massive crowd showed up, spilling onto the sidewalk. People outside cupped their eyes with their hands to view the screens inside, the AP recounted. “When Serena would score a point, I swear to God, I thought the glass was going to shatter,” Nguyen said. “When they were volleying… you could hear a burger flip in the kitchen.”

Heightened interest in women’s sports has accelerated Nguyen’s plans for expanding her brand, she told the Associated Press. “Things have happened at light speed compared to what my forecast was. This tiny spot that I built for my friends and I to watch games and give female athletes their flowers means so much more. And not just to me, but to a lot of people.”

The USA Today article summarized her passion for starting The Sports Bra with this quote: “I just thought about the 7-year-old and how if even one little kid comes into The Bra and sees a future for themselves in sports because of being there, it’s worth it. It’s worth tossing and turning and trying to figure out how to make ends meet.”

Main photo credit: Leah Nash/Sports Bar Bub

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Mary Vinnedge is an award-winning journalist who has served as editor in chief, managing editor and senior editor at national and regional publications, including SUCCESS and Design NJ magazines. She also held reporting and editing roles at The Dallas Morning News and Charlotte Observer newspapers.

Before Mary began covering franchise news and trends as a staff writer for FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine, she developed articles on topics ranging from lifestyle, education, health and science to home projects, horticulture, gardening, interior design and architecture. These articles included her reporting on academic news at her alma mater, Texas A&M University, when Mary worked in the marketing department of the Texas A&M Foundation. She continues to be a news junkie and subscribes to several publications.

Today Mary and her husband are empty nesters living on Galveston Island near Houston. The couple’s blended family – scattered around the United States – includes five children, four grandchildren and two very spoiled, very barky miniature schnauzer rescues.
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