With an elevated campaign carrying on last year’s tagline, Buick partnered with the country’s only bar dedicated to women’s sports to bring together some of the game’s biggest stars for a March Madness celebration unlike any other.
Jenny Nguyen will never forget where she was exactly one year ago.
The Portland, Oregon native was celebrating the grand opening of her new venture, The Sports Bra, a first-of-its-kind themed venue along busy Broadway that only shows women’s sports.
“I was watching the Final Four, and it went to commercial,” she recalled of the bar’s opening weekend. “It showed the [game sound of the] Arike Ogunbowale last second three-pointer of the 2018 championship game. That was a game that I watched at a sports bar, with no sound, that put this idea into my head.
“Standing in my place, on that day, watching that commercial, I got all the feelings.”
Her next reaction was simply: What commercial is this?
“The screen was dark,” she continued. “And then it said ‘See Her Greatness. Buick.’ I will never forget it. It was just one of those moments.”
This year, The Sports Bra, Buick, and the Togethxr platform have all teamed up throughout March Madness to bring the groundbreaking national campaign to the grassroots, with a series of watch parties at the sports bar that’s become a staple in the Pacific Northwest community, just one year in.
“When they reached out and told me about See Her Greatness, I said, ‘I know exactly who you are and what you’ve done,’” smiled Nguyen. “They single handedly put the championship game on broadcast, and we just have a mission alignment when it comes to representation in sports.”
Boardroom caught up with Nguyen and representatives from the Detroit-based car company to understand the vision behind the “See Her Greatness” campaign, the importance of creating a space for women’s sports, and how they formed the perfect partnership.
Driving Into Greatness
Based in Detroit, Buick has made a commitment to developing campaigns specifically for the women’s sports space in recent years.
“We’ve been a decades-long partner of the NCAA, across all sports in men’s and women’s. We’ve been for two or three years now, the #1 car brand for women, as a percentage of sales,” Sam Russell, Buick’s Marketing Director, said of the campaign’s starting points.
“Title IX was turning 50 last year, and we started really looking into the idea of celebrating equality,” he continued. “It led us to this critical insight from research by Dr. Cheryl Cooky, that 40% of the athletes across the spectrum are women, but they only receive about 10% of the media coverage. It’s truly an inequality that is out there.”
With a big picture issue at hand, the first chapter of Buick’s campaign looked to tackle viewership.
“The biggest problem here, is people just aren’t aware. There’s an ignorance out there, and you need to educate people,” said Russell. “We wanted to talk to all sports fans and make sure that they’re aware that they’re missing almost 50% of everything that they like about sports, if they’re not watching women’s sports.”
The strong tagline not only celebrated the legacy of the women’s tournament, but it also aimed to urge people to simply tune in. In addition to the ad, Buick’s website landing page serves as a one-stop shop where fans can get details about upcoming game times for each round of the tournament.
This year, the evolution of NIL allowed for individual players to be incorporated into the campaign. As a result, the company tapped some of the game’s biggest stars including Aliyah Boston, Azzi Fudd, Cameron Brink, Kiki Rice, and Caitlin Clark as part of the “Watch Me” commercial, while also receiving their own solo ads.
“It makes it more authentic to our audience, and it reaches their audience too,” said Russell. “Their followers are a whole new future generation of consumers, that maybe a 30-second ad on TV wouldn’t reach. It’s great marketing, and [social media] connects to an audience in a way that is much more personal.”
Events like the viewing party have only added to the on-the-ground frenzy that’s become a pillar of this year’s March Madness tournament, as stars like Aliyah Boston and Caitlin Clark have led their teams through each round with all-time performances. With an expectation of drawing a huge crowd for each game, Buick and The Sports Bra also added an additional viewing tent next door.
“To have that kind of hype behind women’s basketball and a women’s sporting event, that’s what it’s about,” said Nguyen. “We’re finally getting the representation and the recognition that the athletes have deserved this entire time.”
Setting a New Bar
For Nguyen, the partnership brings to life exactly what she envisioned long before the Sports Bra opened its doors.
When she started to map out the concept for her memorabilia and jersey-laden specialty sports bar, Nguyen remembers being denied for a small business loan “by everybody.” She polished her pitch deck, scrounged together her life savings, and sought investments from family and friends. She also launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $2,000 within the first couple days.
Nguyen thought it would take a few months to find a potential lease for the bar’s location, leaving her time to reach her goal of $48,700 – only to find exactly what she was looking for in a matter of weeks.
“I fell in love with the space, and it’s exactly where I wanted it to be,” she said.
Taking a leap of faith, she signed a lease, and worked relentlessly to figure everything else out.
“Three days into the Kickstarter, I get a phone call from a writer here in Portland,” said Nguyen. “She goes, ‘Hey, I got this form on my desk saying a place called The Sports Bra is applying for a liquor license. Is this going to be a bra shop that you’ll be serving cocktails at? What’s this about?’”
She explained her dream vision for what “The Bra,” as she often calls it for short, would become: The world’s only women’s sports bar.
“Based on my Google research,” Nguyen said. “It was the only one of its kind, that I could tell.”
The Oregonian article went live a few days later. It went viral immediately and now touts nearly 90,000 shares by readers.
“My mom texted me and goes, ‘Have you looked at your Kickstarter today?’” she continued. “It went to a straight up and down line.”
The campaign generated $105,135.
“To look at what has happened over the first year is a little bit like whiplash. A part of me feels like it’s been 17 years,” she joked.
“This is Our Space Now”
During the “See Her Greatness”-themed viewing parties for the tournament’s Sweet 16, a pristine Buick Encore GX could be seen cruising to the front entrance of The Sports Bra every 90 minutes. Each time the door opened, a basketball icon soon stepped out, surprising and greeting fans inside.
Four former WNBA #1 picks in Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike, along with MVP Jonquel Jones and Didi Richards of the New York Liberty, each appeared throughout the weekend. Question and answer sessions were hosted by Togethxr’s Justine Brown, as players gave away trivia prizes to a crowd entirely up on their hoops knowledge.
“It was such an amazing commercial last year,” said Taurasi. “If you didn’t know what the highlight was, you were sure as hell gonna go see what it was. This year, the campaign and what they’ve been able to do on a national level has been great, and then with events like this, where you give people that are really, really fans access to players that they’ve admired for a long time.”
As two of the W’s longest-standing ambassadors and faces of the league, both Bird and Taurasi beamed as they entered into an atmosphere that they’ve been personally looking for over the years.
“We’ve all had that experience,” said Bird. “Where you go somewhere and you have to beg them to change the channel, and then guys complain.”
“This is our space now,” added Taurasi. “Usually, you have to share it with people that aren’t like-minded. It’s nice to have a space where you’re like-minded and all pushing the same direction.”
As Buick looked to carry over the campaign yet again this season, the added NIL component allowed for even more specific storytelling.
“Last year was focused entirely on generating awareness on an issue,” said Russell. “We wanted people to see her greatness and pay attention.”
In highlighting Boston, Fudd, Brink, Rice and Clark, the company is also calling on fans to take an interest in the greatness of some of the game’s most exciting players of today.
“Buick and Togethxr are really pushing to make sure that people know who the next generation is gonna be. They’re here now,” said Taurasi. “In general, just the change to [having the women’s tournament use the name] ‘March Madness,’ it symbolizes where women’s basketball and women’s sports is going.
“It’s only the beginning.”
At this important moment, Taurasi is noticing a critical shift in how the women’s game is being consumed and discussed.
“It’s a change in sentiment,” she said. “It’s less of a charity, and more of a, ‘Shit, they’re really good at basketball. And we should be watching them, how they play and how they interact.’ There’s a value to that.”
From Nguyen’s standpoint, as more and more corporate partners have connected with The Sports Bra since the launch a year ago to discuss potential partnerships, she’s observed a number of wins across the board.
“These big companies are putting their money where their mouth is,” she said. “They’re seeing ridiculous returns on investment, and that initial investment is going to get so many more people into the market.”
By being purposeful in directing its ad dollars behind the See Her Greatness campaign, Buick is already noticing a rising of the tides across the landscape, with even more corporate sponsors also stepping up.
“This year, we’re really proud to be a part of the fact that the Women’s Tournament sold out all of their ad units for the first time in the history of the tournament, while seeing record audiences,” said Russell. “We had a small part in that, and we’re happy to be a part of an evolution that’s seeing society move in the right direction.”
With new TV deal negotiations nearing for both the women’s March Madness tournament and the WNBA, Taurasi knows well what’s on the line. Record ratings and an ever-expanding audience size will drive up the final figures of each entity’s next broadcast agreement.
“That’s a responsibility that media outlets, big sponsorship money, TV and cable all have,” continued Taurasi. “At the end of the day, they push what the people watch. A lot of times, you might think that the fans or the public dictates what’s on TV. It’s not. It’s the people putting it on, the people writing about it, and coming to events like this, that make the biggest difference.”
For Jenny Nguyen, celebrating the one-year mark of The Sports Bra has brought it all full circle. The launch of the “See Her Greatness” campaign last year coincided with the bar’s opening weekend. Since then, her establishment has served as a gathering point for the community of sports fans to come together to celebrate women’s sports.
“I’ve had people come in that played college basketball, that are now in their 70s. They came in and just cried,” she said.
While there are undoubtedly strides still to be made for the women’s sporting landscape ahead, Nguyen’s concept and vision has been fully realized through The Sports Bra.
“I feel like glass ceilings are being broken every single day,” said Nguyen. “Whether it’s attendance records, investment or NIL deals, everything is growing. I feel really fortunate that I opened The Sports Bra when I did, because there’s a turning point now. The momentum is shifting.”
To see her greatness this weekend, tune in to LSU vs Iowa in the Women’s National Championship Game on Sunday at 3:30 PM EST on ABC.
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