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How the world’s 2nd pub for women’s sports opened in Seattle

How the world’s 2nd pub for women’s sports opened in Seattle
Sports bars, pubs and restaurants everywhere screen men’s sports as the main priority. But Rough and Tumble Pub makes women’s sports the center of its business. (Credit: Jane G Photography)

SEATTLE (BVM) – Rough & Tumble Pub, located in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, opened in December of 2022 as just the second sports bar/pub in the world to prioritize the screening of women’s sports. 

“Rough & Tumble Pub is only the second sports bar/pub in the world to put the focus on female athletes and women’s sports – and we shouldn’t be (with it almost being 2023),” said Jen Barnes, founder of R&T Pub. 

Barnes, a former local competitive rower and former crew coach at Mount Holyoke College, can recall the pivotal moment that led to her starting a unique pub that puts the focus on women’s sports.  

“I came up with the idea after I was trying to find a place to watch the OL Reign’s (NWSL) semi-final game (October 2021),” Barnes said. “One place agreed to put it up after the out-of-market NFL game, but the game went into overtime so the Reign game didn’t go up until halftime. It was astonishing to me that [such an important game for Seattle women’s sports wasn’t getting priority].

“I couldn’t fathom that we were still doing this in 2021 so I decided to enact change myself.” 

Barnes began executing her idea the following week. Fortunately, she has years of experience in the food and hospitality industry in positions from server to manager. She also has 20 years of corporate experience in business and operations. 

Her first step was to begin market research. She needed to understand if a business marketed towards people who watch women’s sports would even succeed.  

“There was a mix of reactions to starting this business,” Barnes said. “I think anytime you step into the world with an idea that is unique there are a lot of questions that go into that. In general, once I talked about the data points around it, it started to make sense.” 

The data that Barnes pointed to is that 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sports, and of those, 49% are female and 51% are male, according to research from Nielsen Sports

Barnes spent roughly 13 months executing her idea which turned to fruition when Rough & Tumble Pub opened for business on December 9. 

“We’ve been open for less than three weeks and our sales are astounding,” Barnes said. “We’ve been at capacity with up to three-hour waits. Roughly 50% of our patrons are men, too. At any given time, there are several guys sitting at the bar watching the game on the big screen.”

Rough & Tumble Pub
Both kids and adults can support women’s sports at the Rough & Tumble Pub. (Credit: Jane G Photography)

At its surface, a pub focusing on women’s sports may have sounded like a risk. After all, more people watch men’s sports. But Barnes knew she wouldn’t miss out on business because there is an exponential rise in viewership for women’s sports. 

“I think the average sports bars – or the 99.9% of the other sports bars, pubs and restaurants out there – are the ones actually missing out on a significant amount of business,” Barnes said. “I hope we will be proof of concept that paves the way for additional places like ours to start popping up. I hope someday we don’t have to prioritize something for women’s sports: we can all be equal but that isn’t the case right now.” 

The feedback overall has been overwhelmingly positive from both fans and pro athletes who find Rough & Tumble Pub to be an important space. 

“The WNBA’s Seattle Storm and NWSL’s OL Reign have been incredibly supportive,” Barnes said. “Mercedes Russell (Storm) came through as did a lot of NWSL players. It’s gratifying to have created a space for these players.” 

Rough & Tumble Pub prioritizes women’s sports including the Seattle Storm, OL Reign and the area’s collegiate teams. The pub also screens men’s sports when applicable. 

“Groups of women come in who are NFL and NHL fans and they love that this is a comfortable place and are not minimized by the masculine sports bar culture at many other places,” Barnes said. “When it comes to the men, I’ve had guys tell me they are delighted to watch the women’s soccer games on something that isn’t a phone.”

In terms of the future, Barnes hopes others will take steps in making women’s sports more accessible across the country. 

“I’m hoping Rough & Tumble Pub will change how women’s sports are viewed as a whole in the industry,” Barnes said. “The Sports Bra opened in April of 2022 (in Portland, Oregon) and is the only other place in the world doing what I’m doing. We are advocating for equality for women’s sports and the more pubs, restaurants and bars that are willing to take something like this on — the closer we can get to a place where there is equality and equity.”