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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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“Gendered behavior in a male preserve: ESPN Zone Chicago” documents the more than two year study by John Sherry and his team at the ESPN Zone Chicago to analyze gender-influenced behavioral patterns in a male preserve. Through interviews and observations, his team stated that the ESPN Zone “provides the male consumer with a cultural lens to enact the role of an athlete or tele-athlete. For the moment, ESPN Zone Chicago is able to sell him his own personal stage… performances find male guests starring as the lead character, whereas females are cast in supporting roles” (Sherry et al 152). In other words, this sports realm focuses on becoming a fantasy for men whereas women tend to be pushed to the side as a supporter of the “lead character's” dream. The research provides insight into the overall attitude of consumers along with details of how the restaurant caters only to men through marketing tactics. Although his team may be correct in their argument that the ESPN Zone in Chicago is, in fact, a gendered space, the implications of this argument would have been far more compelling if the text incorporated the dynamic of the sports world, details about the infrastructure to how it pertains to women, and by analyzing the staff through their attire.

A gendered space is defined as an area where one gender expression is given preference over others. Sherry's interviewees offer speculation about how women would feel at the ESPN Chicago, “I get the impression that (you know) they're trying to create the impression that this is a real rah, rah man thing. You know what I mean? You know, with (the) all the sports and all. Girls here must feel, (hmm) like (uh) the rah, rah cheerleader. Yeah, I think that's what this place is like. It's like there's no pretend stuff, it's a game, the real game ... with the men here to play and the women here to cheer [smiles big and laughs]” (Sherry 152). However, speculations such as these are a direct result of the marginalization of women that occurs in sports. With the sports bar attempting to resemble the world of sports, the bar likewise tries to appeal to a similar audience.

The sports world, however, is a gendered space. Sports are “considered as a way for men to gain masculinity, in which has resulted in that sports venues become places reserved for men. However, the admiration of traditional masculinity by sports damages the health of men and causes the inequality in sports participation between men and women” (ZhiCheng 72). The immediate association of men when regarding sports creates an atmosphere that does not accommodate women. The target audience is evident through female cheerleaders performing every halftime show, heavy beer advertisements featuring male actors during every commercial break, and only selling apparel for women in the National Football League after 2010 for a league that was founded in 1920. Although introducing new apparel is arguably an effort to include women, the long neglect of women in the world of sports has caused sports to be interwoven with the definition of masculinity.

Masculinity and sports have been loosely intertwined within the American culture causing not only a dominance of men in this subculture, but also building a misconception about women in sports. Nowadays, to even talk about women in sports is to describe a paradox since sports is so closely associated with masculinity. We grow up learning that men and women are not only different, but opposites, therefore whatever men are, women must be the very antithesis (Raney 247). This culture causes the identity of woman who are interested in sports to be different in the general eyes of men as they are labeled as “manly” or a “tomboy”. The use of labels to classify women based on their interests show the relation between sports and men.

In understanding how sports creates a gendered space, it's important to tighten the scope and analyze how the infrastructure of a bar creates separation between men and women. With a space compromising of 35,000 square feet,  it is surprising that Sherry and his team did not focus on the attributes of the sports bar. The ESPN Zone is characterized as a space with compactly-placed games and multiple screening rooms. However, his team did include that men seemed to compete with each other in this space. His team inferred that this space is not only gendered, but gendering in the sense that competition drives other men against each other to see who is the most dominant (Sherry 153) Although this is compelling to show how men create a more extreme environment, Sherry and his team should have continued to document how components of the space were negative to women in a male-dominated area.

One component that should have been mentioned within the general setting was the lighting. In a large public space, lighting is a good indicator of gender in regards to comfort. It is common for sports bars to have low lighting, however, it denies a sense of safety that woman would desire in a large space. Although this seems like a small detail,

the openness of spaces and the extent to which they make users visible to others were characteristics the women considered important in making spaces truly public. Appropriate lighting makes public space accessible during the night because it allows women both to see what and who are there, and to be seen by others. Furthermore, visibility and openness of space were intertwined in their narratives. Most participants implied these notions of openness and visibility when they identified… public spaces (Johnson and Mills 1892).

Observations such as this would have expanded Sherry's argument on a deeper, more personable level for women. By limiting his depth to only male behavior, the value of women and their collective reasoning is left unnoticed which limits the use of Sherry's claim.

The ESPN Zone markets its location as a center stage to sports by organizing the area as closely as possible to organizations such as the National Football League. From the use of cheerleaders to appeal to an audience of men, it was interesting to see how the portrayal of the staff members was not mentioned. Details from the attire and genders of the wait staff to how they were treated by consumers would have assisted in dictating how valid the ESPN Zone being a “male preserve” really is. The research successfully pinpoints the overall attitude within the environment through interviewees' statements that include phrases such as, “You know, with (the) all the sports and all. Girls here must feel, (hmm) like (uh) the rah, rah cheerleader. Yeah, I think that's what this place is like. It's like there's no pretend stuff... with the men here to play and the women here to cheer [smiles big and laughs]” (Sherry et al 152), however, including the interaction between the staff complimented by these strong personalities would have set the stage for a dominating presence. To reach the perspective of women, researchers should have conducted at least one interview to examine how the staff's attire affected a woman. To dictate whether space is gendered, it requires the perspective of different sides.

Although the information Sherry presented is well researched, its lack of context about the reaction of women to these behavioral patterns causes his research to not be focused towards gendered spaces. Furthermore, the lack of observational evidence within the article makes points made within the paper difficult to build off of. The research did not distinguish the difference between a comfortable place to watch sports or whether it was gendered. For example, Sherry spent a majority of his time on the idea of bar food and how it was considered man food, yet the main source of entertainment within the place was the screening rooms and activities, not necessarily the food itself. Therefore other evidence such as the culture itself, the infrastructure, and the management within the bar should have been included to build a more compelling argument.

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