For months, live sports were forced to halt while the world was left to pick up the pieces of the coronavirus pandemic. Although many professional sports like hockey and football have resumed competition under rigid regulations, the fall sports here at Fairfield University have yet to pick back up again. Most recently, it was announced that the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has curated a schedule module for the 2020-2021 season, giving Fairfield hoops the greenlight to formally hit the court again for conference play in early December.
Upon the establishment of the sports media program earlier this fall, such stagnancy in the sports world is surely a topic of concern for students hoping to pursue a career in this industry. Fortunately, if anything, the coronavirus has given deputy director of athletics, Zach Dayton, more work to do in modifying the department’s regular operations. He sat down with The Mirror to offer an inside perspective of the rather busy, inner workings of a collegiate level athletics department during this public health crisis.
Dayton wears many hats, acting as a sports administrator while also overseeing the marketing, brand strategy, communications, social media, digital strategy, ticket sales and operations and broadcast operations teams, all within the Athletics Department. In addition, he handles many projects for Paul Schlickmann, Fairfield’s director of athletics. Although these responsibilities have not necessarily changed, the surrounding climate has forced him and his colleagues to adapt to new roles as well.
The halls of the Thomas J. Walsh Athletic Center are more empty than usual; however, this is not to say that less work is being done. Countless employees are working even harder, many in remote settings, to guarantee that when it comes time for basketball season to begin, the transition back to live sports will be seamless. Dayton detailed how powerful Zoom and other technological communication tools have been in ensuring that essential work gets done.
“I’ve tried to over-communicate and ensure that everyone has the tools to succeed, just in a virtual environment,” he said in terms of how his style of communication has shifted. Dayton emphasized the importance of tweaking the department’s philosophy to please supporters, and simultaneously drive interest and revenue in lieu of live audiences.
Despite the fact that from an external view, sports management and media are expected to suffer in some ways in the midst of this months-long hiatus, Dayton and his staff defy these assumptions through the strides that they have been making since the University first closed last spring. They have tirelessly operated under the guiding mission of making their fans feel as though they are as involved as ever in the culture of sports.
Long before the coronavirus left the department with no other option, Dayton has been preparing to progress towards a more digitized way of working. Under the helm of this deputy athletics director, live viewership for select men’s basketball games have so much as doubled, or even tripled.
He graciously thanks the specialists with whom he works for their endless efforts in making Stags athletics the best program it can be. Dayton welcomes the idea of extending the opportunity of being a part of such a diversely talented organization to students with enthusiasm, and foresees that with the resumption of play will come more opportunities for these aspiring professionals.
We would love to have students assist us on any facet, especially with the game day operation. It takes a village to put on a broadcast in the first-class manner, like we want to do,” said Dayton. “We’re always looking for students that are aspiring to grow into the athletics profession, whether that be marketing, ticket sales, digital strategy, communications, broadcasting or any of those areas.”
Dayton feels strongly about the significance of experiential learning once it is safe to do so, as the health and safety of student-athletes as well as his staff are paramount. He looks forward to having a hand in leading the next generation of athletic professionals to success.