‘We want to be in every home in America.’ Newport’s Last Call Trivia aims to be THE trivia company

Chris Varias
| Special to Cincinnati Enquirer

There’s no bar trivia without bars.

It’s an existential truth for a company that hosts trivia nights. Before the pandemic hit, Newport’s Last Call Trivia was hosting 300 weekly bar events across the country.

COVID-19 hit business hard, and though it’s rebounding, currently hosting about 100 events, Last Call is plotting big plans to complement its bar-trivia operation.

Adam Johnson, the company’s CEO, wants Last Call to be the brand name synonymous with trivia.

“There’s not a company out there,” Johnson says. “I like to ask people, when they think of trivia, what companies do they think of. What brands? And almost everyone goes to “Jeopardy” and then Trivial Pursuit. But there’s not a company out there that really provides trivia on a bunch of different platforms.”

Johnson has several ideas. Last Call Trivia is developing a card game. He says it will be one of the world’s first trivia card games.

“We have a really big network, tens of thousands of people who’ve been playing at our trivia shows, so we reached out to them and got a huge response. We’re still tailoring the ideas and the rules and sending these card games out to people, and then we’re getting their feedback,” he said. “We’ve finally come down to one set of cards that can be played two different ways. One focuses on speed trivia, where you have to be quick to answer, and the other focuses on strategy.”

Last Call Trivia is also trying to drum up corporate business by packaging the thousands of trivia questions it has asked at bar events over the years. “We’re finding ways to utilize these questions in this database for players and companies, because some companies might want to use them for advertising or to play games with their employees,” Johnson explains. “You can use it as team-building with HR departments, where it’s eight separate sessions, and each team would talk about a team-building question that’s related to trivia, so you get to know the people you’re working with, and over the course of eight different sessions, you cover what a trivia game would be.”

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Johnson says Last Call is also planning to launch a newsletter, a new website and a trivia podcast. But he’s not abandoning what has been the core business – bar trivia.

Here’s some trivia about Johnson: He was a receiver on three football teams at Highland High School to win state championships.

“I was one year behind Jared Lorenzen and one year ahead of Gino Guidugli, two of the best quarterbacks that have ever come out of this area,” he says.

He started Last Call Trivia in 2007 and right away landed a contract with Applebee’s to host trivia events in certain locations. At one point, Last Call was doing events in 14 states. They currently operate in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Oregon, where Johnson’s business partner, Drew Turner, resides. Johnson says about 60 percent of their bar business is in Ohio and another 20 percent in Oregon. They also have contracts for providing trivia events at Topgolf locations in California and Utah.

Some of the local trivia nights include Tuesdays at Mecca in Over-the-Rhine, Wednesday at March First Brewing in Blue Ash, Wednesdays at Anderson Bar & Grill in Anderson and Fridays at Bridgeview Box Park at Newport on the Levee.

During the pandemic, Last Call Trivia’s 11 employees moved out of an office on East Third Street in Newport and pivoted to remote work. The company additionally had 250 people hosting trivia events around the country.

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In order to safely bring back bar trivia, Last Call developed an app, so trivia teams could answer questions social-distantly on phones from their seats, rather than filling out sheets and hand-delivering the answers to the hosts.

The change provides another business opportunity.

“We don’t want people staring at their phones,” he says. “Put your phone down so you can’t cheat, right? But now the future is here. We have to use the app. But what it allowed us to do is utilize the data from the players based on how well they performed. We’re building a comprehensive dashboard. Players are going to be able to see how well you do in certain categories, how you did compared to the rest of the country, but more importantly, how you can improve.

“Bar trivia is always going to be the thing that we love. That’s what got us into this, that’s still our bread and butter, that’s what’s really important. That’s what people love coming out for, because they love competing and hanging out with their friends. It’s like a standing weekly appointment with their friends. We’re not getting away from that.”

But Johnson not only wants to compete in the crowded market of bar trivia. He wants to create new markets.

“We want to be in every home in America, in every business. We want to become a company that doesn’t exist right now. Our competitors are just bar-trivia companies. We want to be America’s trivia company,” he says. “The thing with bar trivia is it’s contingent on people who are able and willing to go to bars. What about all the parents who can’t go to bars but love trivia? What about the people who work second shift who can’t go out and play trivia at night in the bars? Or people who don’t drink or like smoky bars? We want to be able to give trivia to anyone in any way they want it.”

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