If you dedicate yourself to watching women’s sports the way I do, and if you enjoy doing that in public spaces, you’re probably familiar with how difficult it can be to find a bar showing The Game (women’s edition). My google history is absolutely cursed from the number of “Where to Watch Angel City FC Game Los Angeles,” “New York Bars USWNT,” and “Chicago bars showing WNBA Playoffs” searches I’ve entered over the past few years.
Given a 2021 study published by USC and Purdue University showing that 95% of total television coverage and “SportsCenter” highlights focused on men’s sports, it makes sense that it would be hard to find places to watch women’s sports with the same public camaraderie that we find for football, March Madness, and the World Series.
But a few days ago, I learned about a bar in Portland that was making waves as a women’s sports haven. The Sports Bra, self-described as “the sports bar dedicated to women’s sports,” opened earlier this year in Northeast Portland and devotes itself fully to broadcasting only women’s sports.
It was, until earlier this month, the only sports bar in the country dedicated to showing women’s sports. With the announcement earlier in August that Seattle is following suit with the Rough & Tumble Pub (focused on showcasing Seattle’s women’s sports teams including the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and the NWSL’s OL Reign), our whopping total has been brought to two (2). Two whole sports bars that offer the guarantee you can catch that NWSL game or the WNBA playoffs.
Lines have been out the door for The Sports Bra, which also makes sense when you consider the growing popularity of professional women’s sports across the board.
Viewership for last year’s WNBA finals was up 40% from just two years earlier, and the league has increased the number of regular-season games thanks to the growing popularity. As of 2019, US women’s soccer generates more revenue than men’s soccer. The NCAA increased the women’s basketball tournament pool to 68 teams this year, and the women’s Final Four games averaged 3.5 million viewers, the highest-watched women’s Final Four in a decade.
The Women’s College World Series out-performed the Men’s College World Series on average viewership per game and number of viewers in the most viewed game. The U.S. Women’s Open in golf nearly doubled the purse between 2021 and 2022. The list goes on and on.
And yet, for those of us who don’t live in Portland or Seattle, it can feel like we have to move mountains to find bars that show women’s sports on TV.
It’s clear there’s a demand for these games. If I had a dedicated bar I could go to for women’s sports, I would drive at rush hour in LA traffic to be there for my teams.
I love spending my fall Saturday and Sunday mornings at the bar watching college football and the Chicago Bears. I love a good B-Dubs March Madness moment. And I want to be able to enjoy that same sense of shared fandom for my women’s teams in their everyday games, not just when the Olympics roll around.
Sure, I can watch these games at home – but half of the fun of fandom is finding other fans to share the madness and excitement with. When I watched the Cubs win the World Series at the Chicago Cubs bar in NYC, it was a collective moment of joy and relief and many tears and many more Old Style toasts. It would have been fine to sit on my couch, but a lot of the magic that night was found in singing “Go Cubs Go” with strangers. Any Buckeye fan who’s ever linked arms with someone they didn’t know to sing Carmen knows the feeling.
And women’s sports fans deserve that experience too.
If bars and restaurants are paying attention, they’ll capitalize on the surging popularity in women’s sports by filling a major hole in the market and dedicating themselves to showing women’s sports regularly.
So this is major props to the Sports Bra and Rough & Tumble (and a friendly heads-up to pop in if you’re in Portland or Seattle), and it’s also a call to other bar and restaurant owners or wannabe owners to start showing women’s sports. Even if it’s not the only thing you show, I promise it will draw the loyalty of the millions of fans like me who are searching for a home base to watch our women.