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Let’s get the snark out of the way first: If we’re being generous, Papa John’s pizza is just passable in a pinch. It’s not going to show up over in Young & Hungry or replace 2 Amys or Pete’s in anyone’s going-out rotation. It’s functional—something to have delivered when you’ve had too many beers watching football and can’t muster the energy to cook for the kids.
Which is all the more reason to never, ever pay full price for it. And that’s what makes Ben Packard something of a small-scale American hero. Packard, 36, is a project manager and iOS developer living in Prince George’s County, and he is solely responsible for the invaluable website ispizzahalfprice.com, as well as its associated Twitter account (@HalfPricePizza) and app.
All the products do exactly one thing: They tell you if one of the local sports teams has triggered their half-price promotion with Papa John’s, and what code to use if so. That’s it.
It’s a simple, useful site, with a surprisingly macabre origin.
“After the Nats won the NL East in 2012, the Papa John’s promo was bumped from five runs required to seven runs required,” Packard explains. That triggered his interest. “This is just the kind of minor inconvenience programmers love to provide an over-engineered and sarcastic solution for. On April 8, 2013, Margaret Thatcher died. One of the links doing the rounds on UK Twitter was the somewhat dark IsThatcherDeadYet.co.uk. That site is still up, and I think the inspiration is pretty clear.”
Packard launched his site, and realized he had a modest hit on his hands. “It was immediately obvious that this dumb website was going to be much more successful than any project I had actually tried to put some real time or effort into,” Packard says, “so adding the iOS app for push notifications and the automated Twitter account were irresistible.”
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The site has grown a bit, now racking up a few hundred hits each day and sending out push notices to more than 2,000 devices via app. The actual mechanics are straightforward and largely automated (scores are pulled from online sources, except for football scores, which Packard never got around to automating and now enters by hand), but he has continued adding bells and whistles to the site—graphics, additional teams, and so on.
“I kind of feel like the more gaudy and fancy the thing gets, the funnier it becomes,” Packard says. “Though of course I take my solemn responsibility to D.C.’s lovers of mediocre but affordable pizza extremely seriously.”
Packard came to the U.S. from England in 2009 and acclimated quickly to the sports teams in his new environment, rooting first for the Nats and bringing the other area teams steadily into his life. “As a lifelong fan of the England national soccer team, it was very easy to fall into the standard love/hate relationship with the D.C. pro football team,” he says.
(According to his site, that’s where the football promo comes from, too—the controversial name is conspicuously absent, a decision Packard attributes to “two parts liberal sanctimony and one part fear of a Snyder lawsuit.”)
It’s tough to determine whether the site is having any notable effect on pizza sales, but at least one local team says it has definitely raised awareness about their existence: the DC Breeze, our very own professional Ultimate Disc team (and likely subject of a future column). The Breeze logo is the obvious outlier on Packard’s site, in there among the much more familiar bald eagles and curly Ws.
Don Grage, managing partner of DC Breeze, is the guy responsible for alerting Packard to the team’s participation in a pizza promo. It’s a deal that has probably worked out better than he expected. Grage tells of seeing tweets tying knowledge of the Breeze to the pizza site, and, he says, “We’ve had people mention to our staff in person at games that they heard about us through the half-price pizza app or Twitter feed.”
Packard keeps the site focused. It’s just the Papa John’s promos—no chicken, no burritos, no donuts. “I suppose I could check whether IsPizzaHalfPriceOrChickenSandwichesOrNuggetsFreeAtTheseOtherPlaces.com is available,” he says. “But for the main site, I like to keep it clean and simple. This is D.C. Important people have important work to do and important pizza to eat.”
Well, “pizza,” anyway. But at half price, maybe that’s good enough.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.