April 8, 2024 

Togethxr creates community with popular events around NCAA Tournament

It’s one thing for a team, league, or tournament to be able to sell tickets and generate excitement. It is an entirely different thing to offer experiences and events that add to the excitement and buzz of an event

In Portland during the NCAA regionals, the line outside the door of the Spirit of 77 sports pub was 25 people deep. The pub is about a five-block walk from Moda Center, where eight teams had set up camp for the weekend to compete for the Final Four.

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The pub had been taken over for the weekend by Oregon’s successful and novel “Sports Bra,” a small, local bar owned by Jennie Nguyen. The bar only plays women’s sports on its televisions and its walls are lined with women’s sports memorabilia.

And it was the place to be on regional weekend. Women’s sports fans filled the bar to watch teams play on giant television screens. The pub was also lined with WNBA stars such as Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike, Aliyah Boston and Elena Delle Donne.

Togethxr – the media and commerce brand founded by Sue Bird, Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel – and the insurance company Aflac, shich has become a stalwart corporate support of women’s basketball, organized the event. It’s popularity proved it was satiating an appetite that has grown as the women’s game gets more popular by the day and demands more spaces for communal gathering, celebration, and fandom.

It’s one thing for a team, league, or tournament to be able to sell tickets and generate excitement. It is an entirely different thing to offer experiences and events that add to the excitement and buzz of an event. This supplemental value is something that men’s sports have long had the power to provide, but not women’s games.

“It’s a movement,” said Togethxr‘s Co-Founder Jessica Robertson. “Women’s sports fans have had to create their own communities. They had to create their own merchandise because it was such an under-invested category for so long. We are here to build this out and bring people together to celebrate community.”

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Because of the foundation laid by The Sports Bra in building communal experiences, Portland was a natural place to start. But the party continued in Cleveland, where Togethxr sponsored another pop-up event, followed by a live broadcast of A Touch More, the podcast hosted by Bird and Megan Rapinoe, where one of the world’s most powerful sports couple chopped it up about offensive fouls, Saturday Night Live, and how women are “saving” men’s sports. Within 30 minutes, no free tickets remained for the event, in a venue taht held approximately 200 people.

“One of the things we’ve always talked about as players amongst one another is not being able to break through with cultural cachet,” Bird said after the broadcast, which was attended by Ted Lasso star Jason Sudekis. It also included a guest appearance by ESPN’s studio team of Elle Duncan, Chiney Ogwumike and Andraya Carter. “This has been a very long time coming, and it’s been unbelievable.”

Bird said that events like the ones that Togethxr put together for fans over the past two weekends “makes it feel big.”

“People want to be connected,” Bird said. “As fans, we have been craving it. We’ve been wanting it and needing it and it hasn’t been there.”

Rapinoe added that seeing bars full of fans next to arenas full of people is the emphatic answer to so many stale narratives about women’s sports.

“It’s the antidote to the gaslighting we’ve all experienced for decades,” Rapinoe said. “We have seen great players and big crowds before and people still say ‘nobody cares’. To see all of these people proves that sense of ‘I’m not crazy’. It’s a validation.”

Rapinoe added that it is particularly important for those in marginalized communities. “It’s powerful and it’s life affirming to have a real life community around sports,” Rapinoe said.

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Back in Portland, on the first day of the pop-up event on Friday, the team buses from USC and Texas pulled up and players and coaches made their way inside to say hello to fans. The event space contained jerseys representing teams from across the country. Boston and Delle Donne mingled, taking pictures with fans. Los Angeles Sparks head coach Curt Miller sat in front of a screen on Saturday, marveling at how many people were in the space.

Nguyen was making her way around the room, a celebrity in her own right for creating such a unique and, now, beloved space for women’s sports fans. People stopped Nguyen everywhere she went and expressed their gratitude. She thinking about expansion, and she is getting calls from other people around the country looking to open their own women’s sports bars.

“This is a bigger dream that I ever could have had,” Nguyen said.

For Aflac’s Garth Knutson, the company’s chief marketing officer, attaching the brand to women’s sports as an early adopter has been an unquestioned success. Attaching to Togethxr for the pop up event was another fruitful opportunity for a business that wants to capitalize on the growing excitement around the sport.

“When I got here in 2022, we were spending zero dollars advertising women’s sports and we decided to shift as much as we could,” Knutson said. Aflac is spending seven figures now, with more to come. “We feel lucky that we got in early.”

What Robertson and Bird have witnessed over these past two weeks is the payoff of an intentional, thoughtful effort to further elevate a women’s game that’s already showing an accelerated upside. There is more to come, with the next events planned for WNBA All-Star weekend in Phoenix in mid-summer.

“This isn’t a ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario,” Robertson said. “The fans have been here the whole time.”

Rapinoe added: “Don’t let women get the money and power to get up and do something. We will crush it.”

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Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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