Inspired Entertainment Is Making The Virtual A Reality

Ian Freeman lays out the vision of Inspired Entertainment. By Peter White

A seasoned industry veteran with more than two decades of experience in sports and iGaming, Ian Freeman has held leadership positions with two companies in global gaming and technology. To these he now adds chief commercial officer for virtual sports at Inspired Entertainment. He accepted the post last November.

Before joining Inspired, Freeman served as chief revenue officer for FSBTech, where successful launches in Ontario and South Africa demonstrated a focus on driving customer acquisition and retention, and revenue growth, as well as global market expansion. Freeman was previously at International Game Technology, where he played an instrumental part in the rollout of IGT PlaySports across North America. His impressive career also includes five years at Kambi, where he served as chief commercial officer and was a member of the management team that navigated the company’s successful IPO and gained a foothold in UK and Colombian markets. Following ICE London, Freeman sat down with Sport Betting Operator’s Peter White. Their conversation has been edited for clarity.

What aspects of the role of chief commercial officer for virtual sports at Inspired Entertainment appealed to you most and why?

What I love about the virtual sports business is the opportunity to further develop the category across multiple territories and segments, which helps operators drive incremental revenues at a stable margin. The most powerful appeal lay in Inspired’s unrivaled expertise in the global virtual sports market. No supplier in the world can match their portfolio of titles or range of sports and eSports — from licensed American football, basketball, and baseball to eSports offerings, both men’s and women’s soccer, tennis, golf, horse and greyhound racing, motor racing, and even marbles. Inspired’s diverse catalogue caters to both seasoned bettors and novice players alike.
Since coming to Inspired, I’ve found that the company’s emphasis on teamwork, talent, and cutting-edge technology creates an environment of innovation and creativity. The design process remains flexible, prioritizing the creation of games that resonate with players’ desires. Development and delivery are collaborative, with a team of individuals who have both creative flair. and sharp mathematical acumen — including our esteemed, BAFTA award-winning, virtual sports design team, renowned for their meticulous attention to detail in crafting lifelike player experiences.

Beyond that, the company’s commitment to employee well-being, professional development, and social integration aligns with my own values and priorities. Inspired is genuinely focused on supporting and nurturing its team members. The opportunity to contribute to the success of Inspired’s virtual sports division in such a dynamic and supportive environment excites me on a daily basis.

ian freeman cco inspired entertainment

Image: Ian Freeman CCO

Tell us about the new partnership with Luckia to deliver your virtual products to the Spanish market?

Inspired has developed long-standing partnerships across Europe, particularly in Greece and Italy, and European players are familiar with our products and virtual sports. Our new and exciting partnership with Luckia spearheads the introduction of virtual sports in Spain. Luckia customers now have access to a dynamic range of Inspired’s cutting-edge games, including soccer, basketball, and marbles, as well as horse and greyhound racing, with further product launches expected over the next few years.

Inspired Gaming also recently announced the launch of its newest virtual sports soccer product, V-Play Torneo™ (also known as V-Play Knockout Cup™). What are its main features and what are your target markets for this game?

V-Play Torneo™ (the Italian name of the game) or V-Play Knockout Cup™ (its UK name) features eight teams competing in a tournament. The event screen displays the highlights of the quarter-final, semi-final and final games. Players can follow the progress of the tournament from the scoreboard and any goals scored are updated in real time. The game is presented as a single-event format and the event will last up to two minutes. Bets are offered on a number of markets, including tournament winner, second place, straight forecast, reverse forecast and total goals scored.
As its name suggests, V-Play Torneo™ was first launched in Italy. It caters to football enthusiasts with versions available in both Italian and English. The thrilling gameplay aims to captivate audiences across Italy, delivering an unmatched virtual football experience.

inspired entertaiment title image

How important is continual investment in research and development?

This year a major goal for the team is product/market fit. We have an exceptional, best-in-class product, and one of the best development and graphics team in the industry. Investment into research and development is vital for long-term growth and competitiveness. It allows us to continue to be innovative, develop new products, improve existing ones, and find out exactly what our customers want and need. In industries like gaming, innovation is key to attracting and retaining customers. Continual investment into research and development allows us to create cutting-edge games that appeal to consumers, and differentiate them from our competitors.
To achieve this, we consistently ensure we use the latest technology to constantly help to improve our graphics. We invest in large motion-capture spaces, new, faster ways to render, and we build on years of our artists’ experiences and expertise to ensure continual improvement. Every product has to be better than the last. We place high value on efficiency improvements, development pipelines, and maintaining high uptime.

We are also looking at how AI can help us improve and enhance our offerings across all areas of the virtual business including development, quality assurance and graphics. The aim is to determine whether AI text-to-speech can generate realistic commentary for our virtual events. AI speech could be hugely beneficial to us, as it enables us to provide a variety of voices, and a huge selection of languages within a significantly easier and shorter timescale. This will in turn greatly benefit both our partners and players.

How was ICE London for Inspired Entertainment and what are the other main shows where readers can expect to find Inspired Gaming this year?
ICE 2024 was a resounding success.

One big highlight was showcasing our branded basketball product. Inspired secured the rights to develop virtual sports games based on the league’s archived footage. Fans will be able to wager on teams in fast-paced matchups, that include all 30 team logos, as well as archived footage from notable basketball games.

This month, we are excited to attend the Brazilian iGaming Summit as we continue to explore opportunities for growth across South America and Latin America. Soccer is hugely popular in Brazil and continues to dominate the market. For that reason, we are currently configuring a bespoke Brazilian soccer product. It will feature Brazilian-themed teams, as well as stadia, where we aim to replicate the vibrant and energetic atmosphere seen at stadiums across Brazil into our product.

We also look forward to exhibiting at G2E later this year, particularly as we have captured the attention of a number of prominent Tier 1 operators entering the U.S. market for the first time. These operators are keen to add virtual sports to their line ups, which will in turn attract new customers and expand their revenue streams.

inspired entertaiment image

Tell us about your partnership with Kambi to provide virtual sports offerings and is the North American sports betting market your priority growth jurisdiction?

Through our agreement with Kambi Group, we will integrate Inspired virtual sports products into the Kambi sports book platform. This integration will allow Kambi’s partners to offer Inspired’s virtual sports line-up to its customer base, via a seamless sports-betting-user journey whilst unlocking dynamic new, incremental revenue streams for all parties. Inspired won this partnership as Kambi’s exclusive virtual sports provider through a rigorous, competitive, procurement process. North America is a core market, and we are seeing both operators and regulators acknowledge that virtual sports will satisfy a latent demand for off-season sports events. Of course, we always want progress to be faster but we are making great strides.

In 2024 we expect to be live with multiple operators across multiple states in the U.S. and in Ontario. It is testimony to the power of Inspired’s brand, and its graphic and technical product quality, that two of the world’s most iconic sports franchises agreed to partner with us on long-term licensing deals. These ground breaking partnerships represent a significant stride in our journey toward redefining virtual sports and tuning into customers’ needs. Aligning with these iconic sports leagues gives Inspired access to exclusive data, branding assets, and intellectual property rights, enabling the creation of highly authentic and immersive experiences. By leveraging both leagues’ extensive resources and fan bases, we are poised to deliver unparalleled content that resonates with audiences worldwide.

Additionally, partnerships with the MLBPAA and NFLA further solidify Inspired’s position as a trailblazer in the virtual sports arena. These collaborations let Inspired tap into the rich heritage and legacy of professional sports. By incorporating authentic team logos, player likenesses, and historical data, Inspired’s products stand out for their authenticity, and depth, captivating fans and enthusiasts alike.

Our venture into eSports represents a bold move towards diversification and innovation, as well as product development and deliverability. By integrating live tournament footage tles, Inspired bridges the gap between traditional sports and eSports, catering to an ever-growing audience of gaming fanatics. This innovative approach not only expands Inspired’s market reach but also underscores our commitment to stay at the forefront of industry trends and consumer preferences.

Inspired is the only supplier to offer licensed American football, basketball, baseball and eSports virtual games. This is an integral part of our strategy to bring our branded portfolio of licensed, U.S.-centered sports to the North American player base, as well as to eSports enthusiasts across the globe. To further appeal to North American players, Inspired has launched its V-Play lottery portfolio, and is partnering with lottery operators including the Pennsylvania and D.C. lotteries.

Tell us about any new Virtual Sports launches in North America.

We have had some exciting new launches in 2024 across North America. We recently launched End Zone Cash, which features NFL Alumni (NFLA) players and is available play through the Pennsylvania Lottery in more than 10,000 retail locations throughout the state. End Zone Cash brings favorite, retired football legends back to the field, features 16 teams with eight matchups and is available seven days a week, every four minutes. As well as featuring recognized players, End Zone Cash displays team matchups, a touchdown count and a touchdown multiplier. End Zone Cash will be launched across the Pennsylvania Lottery’s entire retail estate and will be shown on monitors in more than 2,000 retailers.
We also recently launched Virtual Sports content in New Jersey through a partnership with Rush Street Interactive (NYSE: RSI), a leading, online, sports betting and casino company in the United States. Our content is now accessible to BetRivers players through its renowned BetRivers sports book and casino. This launch is the first of many planned across other states with RSI in the coming year. Over the next few months, we have launches planned with bet365 in New Jersey and Ontario, as well as BetMGM in Ontario, with more launches expected throughout the year.

Can you provide readers a sneak preview into what new products and game updates they can expect from Inspired Entertainment this year?

Inspired has recently introduced its initial, branded, American football and to baseball games, anticipating a total of four branded American football games. Our second branded American football game and our first branded basketball game will launch in 2024. We are also preparing for the release of our eagerly anticipated eSports title later this year. As well as this, we are excited to share that we are in the early development stages of a new ice hockey product, which will be aimed at North American players, as well as ice hockey enthusiasts around the globe.

What are among the long-term ambitions for Inspired Entertainment?

The company and virtual sports industry as a whole are constantly evolving and shifting, in line with the latest technological advances. We are laser-focused on distribution and product market fit, optimizing the virtual sports experience for our operators and their customers, and opening up new product categories. It is a very exciting time. I feel fortunate and privileged to be working with such a strong and inclusive leadership team, and an amazing group of talented and humble people in our virtuals business unit. I look forward to continuing this work with my Inspired colleagues, developing new and game-changing products (particularly those aimed at North American and Brazilian players), as we pursue commercial strategies, and collaborate with key partners and Tier 1 operators to increase incremental revenue. This will include conducing thorough market analysis, identifying growth opportunities, fostering collaboration, and setting strategic priorities to further drive revenue and market share.


*** This Interview was originally published in February 2024 edition of Sports Betting Operator Issue 10 ***

Inspired Entertainment Is Making The Virtual A Reality was first seen on Sports Betting Operator