Quiz show: Sports-bar trivia games keeps customers guessing

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Six months after Buffalo Wild Wings opened in Cape Girardeau, Darin McCain wandered in, sat down and a friend suggested he try his hand at the electronic trivia game that was being broadcast on more than 30 of the 70 TV screens.

He tried it once. That's all it took.

Now, the 37-year-old Cape Girardeau lumber-yard delivery driver goes to the sports bar two or three times a week specifically to play the trivia game.

"It's something to do while you're waiting on your food," McCain said. "It's interesting and it's fun. I look at it as educational. There's lots of stuff you can learn that you didn't know."

The most popular of the trivia games is National Trivia Network, or NTN, the California-based company that runs computerized trivia games in more than 4,000 bars and restaurants in North America and ranks players locally and nationally. The questions range from sports, to history, geography and current events.

Who wrote the screenplay for the 1952 film "Viva Zapata!" and "What composer became the prime minister of Poland?" People like McCain can tell you more often than not that it's John Steinbeck and Ignancy Jan Paderewski.

Questions appear on the television screen and customers answer using a wireless remote terminal. Participants make up screen names (McCain's is DBONE) and compete with people in the restaurant and across the country.

"It's extremely popular," said Bill Zellmer, owner of Buffalo Wild Wings in Cape Girardeau. "It's pretty cool. It keeps the customers entertained. It gives them something to do. Everything's competitive these days so it's a fun game that people can play while they wait for their food."

Apparently, it is growing in popularity. In 2005, more than 60 million games were played in the U.S. and Canada. The number of trivia questions answered exceeded more than 615 million.

Zellmer said NTN recently added Texas Hold 'Em was recently added, along with other network games like Black Jack, Countdown, Showdown, Passport and Sports IQ. The top five handles in 2005 were Mike, Chris, Bob, Me and Ace.

"People like it," he said. "It just adds to the fun."

The trivia games haven't been successful everywhere in town. Show-Me's, Nick's and Krieger's have had the games in the past but have all three removed them.

"It costs a whole lot of money and the ownership decided to pull them out," said John Di Stefano, general manager at Krieger's. "It was popular and people did come in to play them. But they did a cost analysis and it wasn't bringing in as much as it cost to have the games."

Krieger's was being charged $750 a month to have the games, Di Stefano said.

"We just weren't making it back," he said.

But a 2000 independent study by Actionable Marketing Research suggests there are benefits to having the games. Customers who play spend 47 percent more than non-players -- $35.50 as opposed to $24.10, according to the study. They also stay longer than non-players, come back more frequently and bring their friends.

The games do draw in people like Rich Morris and his wife, Gail. The couple -- both teachers -- stop by Buffalo Wild Wings once a week to play.

"My wife has a lot of what she calls useless knowledge," Morris said. "I tag along for the fun."

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