As the general manager of content management solutions for NYRA (New York Racing Association), Joe Longo understands a thing or two about what it takes behind the scenes to keep racing running.
“What I do is business development for NYRA, and I represent 16 different racetracks in buying and selling content on their behalf, including NYRA,” said Longo. “That's the negotiation of host fees, wagering initiatives, post-time coordination — which is of course everyone's favorite subject — and I'm also on the board of the TRA (Thoroughbred Racing Associations) and the TRPB (Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau). The great thing about NYRA is there is a small team so there is a lot of collaboration, but there is a lot going on.”
As busy as he is today, it would be hard to imagine that Longo once struggled to find a job, any job, in racing.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Longo's first exposure to racing came from his uncles, who he recalls as having questionable childcare tactics.
“Basically, my uncles are horrible babysitters,” joked Longo. “They would drag me to the Meadowlands with them despite my parents saying, 'This might not be the best idea.' And then, when summer rolled around, we'd go to Monmouth Park, and I just absolutely fell in love with it.”
But as enamored as Longo was of the sport, he didn't exactly feel the love in return. With no family or connections with direct ties to the industry, there seemed little chance that he would be admitted to the club. While he remained an avid fan, Longo moved into different professional circles, leaving racing on the back burner.
“I always wanted to be involved with racing, but I grew up in in inner city New Jersey in Elizabeth, and it was a pipe dream,” said Longo. “I went to state schools, first Rutgers then Rider. I graduated with a background, my undergrad is accounting, and I worked in auditing and did my MBA in finance.
“After I'd been in public accounting for about 12 or 13 years, I kept thinking about racing and I finally told myself, 'I'm going to do this.' At some point you need to bet on yourself. I had spoken to several tracks out here and offered to work for free, but I didn't get the opportunity. So, my thought was, 'I will show you why I'm worth the full-time head count.' That's when I found the RTIP (Race Track Industry Program).”
Accepted into the RTIP's two-year master's program at the University of Arizona, Longo packed up everything he knew and made the long cross-country drive to The Grand Canyon State in pursuit of what he felt would be the best opportunity to get his foot in racing's door.
“It was like another world because I'd never been to Arizona before,” said Longo. “It couldn't have been more different, and I drove across the country to get there.”
As soon as he quashed his culture shock, Longo discovered that the RTIP was the perfect location to build his skills in business to apply them to the racing industry model.
“I knew that the business side was where I wanted to be,” said Longo. “Being an auditor, you audit a lot of companies across many industries, and you realize how a business shouldn't be run. When I came into racing, I viewed everything differently. I found that the best path forward for me was still in business while having the goal of one day being the CEO or something equivalent of a racetrack.
“We learned so much. Doug Reed was there my first year as the racing secretary from Arlington and he brought so much experience. We also had Liz Bracken, who was great, and it was just one big family. People were so willing to give me an opportunity and I know that that is all I ever wanted. I just wanted a shot.
Along the way, Longo built up his network of colleagues and contacts and to his surprise, found that the doors to Thoroughbred racing weren't actually closed, they just required the necessary password.
“In those two years in the program I worked in the racing office at NYRA with Martin Panza, so I lived on the backstretch at Belmont Park, I worked in the office in the morning, and I also went out to Saratoga,” he said. “I became close with another RTIP graduate named Sean Perl, who was our assistant racing secretary at that time. When I was trying to line something up for after the program, he just made one call over to Monmouth Park and they offered me a job in the racing office sight unseen. It was during my time with them that a spot then opened with NYRA, so I negotiated with them and then moved back over to New York.”
Longo's status as a relative outsider who doggedly paved his way from the periphery of the industry to its heart remains one of his greatest strengths. On top of that, his experiences as an avid and active fan have allowed him to apply new methods of action to a business that can sometimes be unwilling to let go of its traditions.
“It's great to have people out of the RTIP who aren't born into the industry per se, because sometimes I think when you are, it's easy to fall into a group think mentality,” said Longo. “When you come from a different background, a new set of eyes always help. In racing there are a lot of people that know racing and there are a lot of people that know business, but they can't always marry the two. I'm also a horseplayer, so I understand the gripes and the outcries customers have because I am one of them. My work has been great in that regard because I get it.”
In his work at NYRA, Longo has found a fulfilling career that he continues to approach each day with the same childish enthusiasm he first found with his uncles on their trips to the racetracks of New Jersey. He continues to credit the RTIP as the key to his success in the industry, without which he might have never found his way in.
“The RTIP is instant credibility. It's the rubber stamp of the industry approval,” said Longo. “It didn't just open doors, it blew them apart. You go from knocking on the front door of the industry and within two years you're at the dinner table asking for seconds.
“But when it really comes down to it, my favorite part of the work I do now is the people. My coworkers aren't just coworkers. They're my friends. I love racing, I love the organization, and I'm passionate about the work I do and the people I work with. I don't know what it is but horse people, racetrack people are a unique breed. To be able to come to the track and deal with fans who are like the types of people I grew up with and to work with other people who share my passion for this sport—it is phenomenal.”