Athens-based technology and content provider Vermantia has been keeping busy since our last catch-up. The company was acquired by Arena Racing Company (ARC) in November 2022. There’s been a shakeup at the top with former COO George Fotopoulos replacing founder Filippos Antonopoulos as CEO and Filippos to act as a Strategic Consultant for ARC. Then, shortly before ICE, came the reveal of a new horse racing tote betting channel.
With the company now fully integrated with Britain’s largest racing group, Vermantia has several developments in the pipeline with a particular focus on emerging LatAm markets and continued growth in Europe. George sits down with G3 to run through the many goings-on.
Prior to the acquisition last year, what was Vermantia’s relationship with Arena Racing Company? What scale of collaboration existed between the two companies, and how had this changed since you joined Vermantia as Head of Operations in 2017?
Before the acquisition last year, Vermantia had an established and significant relationship with ARC. Since 2017, Vermantia has been collaborating closely with ARC, and ARC has been a major shareholder back in 2018. The completion of the acquisition last year demonstrated ARC Group’s commitment to expanding the content distribution business using Vermantia’s advanced distribution technology.
In 2017, when I joined Vermantia, we initiated the distribution of ARC’s premium horse and greyhound racing content along with the production of two high-quality live racing channels – the Ultimate Live Greyhound Channel and the European Racing Channel – which offered top-quality greyhound and horse racing action. Additionally, Vermantia provided various other racing channels, all accessible through advanced satellite and streaming services.
Throughout the years, the collaboration between the companies evolved and expanded. The scale of the collaboration grew, leading to the acquisition by ARC. From ARC’s perspective, we have the experience of previous years working closely with them.
During ICE London 2018 when the interest was expressed, I think the potential synergies were identified by both organizations. With ARC being a larger group, they liked and respected the technology we brought to the table as a smaller-sized but specialized company in the field of content distribution and channel production.
The main priority was to ensure the core business was not hurt and the acquisition benefits Vermantia as a whole. This is why the process was so swift – at least in the initial purchase of their majority stake.
The acquisition has allowed for even closer integration of Vermantia’s cutting-edge distribution technology with ARC’s content distribution objectives. Fully joining forces with ARC is a recognition of the power of Vermantia’s solutions and its commitment to delivering advanced technologies to the entire gaming industry.
Following the completion of the acquisition, we are investigating numerous product synergies with ARC as we are moving forward, with plans to form a powerful business that unlocks multiple new projects and a brand-new approach to media rights & broadcasting.
Was being acquired always part of the long-term planning for Vermantia, or was ARC’s offer simply too good to refuse?
Being acquired by ARC was not always part of Vermantia’s long-term planning. Companies often have various strategies and goals, and their plans can change over time based on market conditions, growth opportunities, and other factors.
The stepping stone was added back in 2017 when the two companies started the collaboration via the distribution agreement. ARC discovered via that collaboration the capabilities of Vermantia and the robust distribution technology that lies behind all Vermantia’s solutions.
The offer from ARC might have been compelling and aligned with Vermantia’s objectives. But what is imperative to highlight is that the acquisition could have presented significant benefits for Vermantia and its team, such as becoming part of a larger group. Joining ARC could have provided Vermantia with access to additional resources, and expertise in wide fields, which could further enhance the company’s technology and unlock new opportunities and further growth.
In acquiring Vermantia, ARC has purchased our technology and expertise. More specifically, they’ve bought the production of racing channels that represent the rights ARC holds for their own UK racetracks. M&A’s in our industry are very common, especially in the last couple of years.
The goal of every company isn’t to be acquired, nor should it be. Results are what matters. Nevertheless, yes, for every company, Vermantia included, if all the pieces of the puzzle fit, why not be acquired, or merged with another?
In the press release announcing the acquisition, you cited plans to form a powerful business that unlocks ‘multiple new projects’ and a ‘brand-new approach’ to media rights and broadcasting. Firstly, what are these projects – can you shed any further light at this stage – and how are they progressing?
We continue to make small but steady steps forward in terms of investing and adapting new technologies. We will never provide something to our operators and partners without making sure what we propose is safe, secure, cost-effective and operationally efficient.
Of course, we will continue to expand in the current markets that we are very active in over the last couple of years. Within the Group, I expect synergies to increase, generating projects for the Arena ‘mothership’.
One of the notable projects undertaken following the acquisition was the development of a brand-new Horse Racing Tote Channel. This project was successfully completed and launched ahead of ICE London in early February.
The AMI [Arena Media International] channel, powered by our Complex Automated Production technology, offers a daily schedule of premium horse races, including both flat and national hunt races, broadcast live from sixteen ARC racecourses as well as several independent ones.
Vermantia’s tech team, leveraging our Complex Automated Production, innovated with an advanced service that enables fully automated and remote complex actions and rules—a pioneering achievement in the industry.
This technology powers and produces the brand-new channel, blending racing and betting information with custom-designed graphics. The channel also features an official live racing commentator and an in-studio analyst providing tips, creating an optimal viewing experience for the audience.
It has always been important to us to develop our own technology, and this will continue to be one of the most important aspects for Vermantia going forward. This is why we continue to invest in new technologies and sources with development tools being constantly deployed. This has and will continue to help us stay ahead of the competition, having a strong RnD team in our tech hub in Athens.
Secondly, can you expand on this ‘brand-new approach’ to media rights and broadcasting? What does this entail?
Regarding the brand-new approach to media rights and broadcasting, the collaboration between Vermantia and ARC enables an end-to-end offering.
This means that the entire chain, from the racecourses to the betting shops, is created and managed by the same group in a seamless and efficient way that gives a frictionless service for the operators and a spectacular viewing experience to the end users. This unified approach ensures a focus on delivering the highest quality and exceptional customer experience throughout the entire process.
With a continuous commitment to innovation and a customer-centric mindset, Vermantia is well-prepared to expand ARC’s services and effectively meet the evolving needs of the industry. This collaborative effort drives growth and success for both companies, positioning them as leaders in the field of media rights, broadcasting and channel production.
What does Vermantia bring to Arena Racing Company with regards to product development and expertise? How has Vermantia continued to develop its product line in 2023? What’s new and different?
During the first couple of years following its inception, Vermantia struggled with its identity in the sense of what we do, how we do it, and how we sell it. Are we selling games or technology? Our identity is that we sell bespoke turnkey solutions for gaming operators around the world. The completion of the acquisition has helped us to deploy our own technologies within the group and simultaneously exploit the content and media rights ARC owns.
Notwithstanding this, in the last couple of years, we have also been focusing on proprietary technology that we have developed in-house. Vermantia brings valuable product development and expertise to ARC in several key areas. The company’s retail solutions respond perfectly to this; blending the latest in technology to increase footfall, engagement, and customer experience with cost and operational efficiencies for retail betting operators worldwide.
Furthermore, Vermantia understands the evolving landscape of retail gaming and recognizes the importance of delivering bespoke services that cater to the unique needs not only of each region but also of each betting shop and its audience.
While horse racing and dog racing remain popular in several regions like the UK, there is also a great demand for a diverse range of live sports, virtual games, and numeric games. Vermantia’s technology allows operators to create a customized product mix even on a per-shop level, ensuring that each location can meet the specific expectations of its customers and adapt swiftly to any changes in demand.
Vermantia’s solutions address the digitalization and personalization needs of retail operators efficiently and effectively. By streamlining processes and simplifying operations, Vermantia’s solutions enable retail operators to embrace digital transformation while maintaining cost efficiency.
In summary, Vermantia’s expertise in tech product development and our focus on personalized retail solutions empower ARC and its content, enhance customer satisfaction, drive revenue growth, and stay at the forefront of the rapidly evolving retail gaming industry.
On a personal level, how have you found switching hats from COO to CEO?
Making the transition from COO to CEO has been an invigorating and rewarding experience for me. While both roles involve leadership and strategic decision-making, the shift to CEO brings a broader scope of responsibilities and a greater focus on setting the overall vision and direction of the company.
As COO, I was deeply involved in the day-to-day operations and executing the strategic plans laid out by the CEO of Vermantia at that time. It provided me with a strong foundation in understanding the inner workings of the company and its operations. Now, as CEO, I can shape the company’s long-term strategy, drive innovation, and cultivate relationships with key stakeholders.
The transition has required me to think more strategically, balancing both short-term objectives and long-term goals. In addition, collaboration, effective communication, and building strong relationships have become even more crucial for me.
I have embraced the challenges and responsibilities that come with being a CEO, and I am fortunate to have a talented and dedicated team supporting me in achieving our shared vision. It has been a fulfilling journey thus far, and I remain committed to leading the company toward sustained growth, fostering innovation, and delivering value to our stakeholders.
Finally, how do you reflect on a whirlwind six months or so for Vermantia, and what’s your overriding sentiment looking forwards to the company? Is international expansion the primary goal, or is a consolidation of key markets? Where is Vermantia focusing its efforts?
Reflecting on the whirlwind of six months for Vermantia, I am filled with a sense of pride and optimism for the company’s future. As a key player in content distribution technologies for the retail gaming industry, Vermantia has made remarkable progress and forged strong partnerships with major operators in Europe.
Our efforts encompass both international expansion and consolidation of key markets. We recognise the value of capturing growth opportunities in existing markets while also exploring the untapped potential in emerging markets, particularly in Latin America.
On another note, one of the best things about building bespoke solutions for customers around the world is that we try to be content-agnostic. We have strategic partners with several platforms when it comes to casino, virtual games, and numeric games, but nevertheless we always try to keep ourselves outside of that. If we have a customer who is willing to take what we have to offer content-wise, that’s fine. If not, that’s also fine. Our focus is to give the best-in-class content management & delivery regardless the content itself.
Now we have been acquired by an organisation that delivers a rich amount of racing content, this puts us into play everywhere in the world. Latin America and Africa need a lot of time and effort. You need to be there, on the ground, if you want to get the necessary market knowledge. Gradually over the next one or two years, we will be well-positioned to penetrate those markets.
In terms of geographical focus, Vermantia places a significant emphasis on Central and South Europe. These regions offer vibrant markets with active operators, providing a fertile ground for expansion. Leveraging our current position, we are determined to make a substantial impact and achieve growth in these regions. Furthermore, we remain committed to strengthening our presence in our home market of Greece, capitalising on our established position.
Looking ahead, we are driven by a strong sense of anticipation for the next 12-18 months. We have exciting developments in the pipeline, with a particular focus on emerging LatAm markets and continued growth and innovation in the UK market.
By prioritising these strategic goals, Vermantia aims to solidify its leadership in content distribution technologies. We are dedicated to expanding our presence in key markets, while also seizing opportunities for growth and innovation. With our unwavering commitment and forward-thinking approach, we are confident in our ability to shape the future of the retail gaming industry and deliver exceptional value to our partners and customers.