Death and hockey: Bakersfield Condors giving away cemetery plot at ECHL game

Hockey fans are known to live and die with their teams. The Bakersfield Condors may have taken that notion a little too literally this season.

The Condors, the ECHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, are awarding one lucky – and really, that’s a matter of perspective and expectations for the afterlife, isn't it? – hockey fan with two burial plots at Historic Union Cemetery in Bakersfield, a prize worth in excess of $5,000.

Yes, it's the Condors' first-ever Cemetery Plot Giveaway Night on Friday, Jan. 21, 2014 against the Utah Grizzlies. “Certainly we don't wish death on anyone, but when you live to be 120 years old and the time comes, we have you covered,” said the team in announcing the promotion.

“Hopefully whoever wins it won’t need to for a while,” said team president Matthew Riley in an interview on Wednesday.

If any team was going to ante up last rites as a fan giveaway, it was going to be the Condors. They’ve earned their reputation as a team willing to try anything to promote its team: From offering Justin Bieber a contract to guaranteeing a playoff appearance to Charlie Sheen Night, which Riley conceived during a 30-minute session on an elliptical trainer at the gym.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re all about having fun,” said Riley.

Alas, sometimes others take the Condors more seriously than they take themselves. Bakersfield took heat in 2012 for "Our City Isn't Bankrupt Night,” which mocked the plight of rival Stockton. A voodoo doll giveaway last season sparked a letter to the editor in the local paper titled “Voodoo dolls are religious items, not giveaway prizes.”

“We do have a dark side,” Riley acknowledged.

Dark enough to give away a cemetery plot like it was a magnetic calendar.

That wasn’t the original plan. Riley said the Condors were inspired by a minor league baseball team’s “funeral night,” in which they gave a fan a fully-paid funeral. But the Condors couldn’t find any funeral homes willing to partner with them; so they expanded their scope and soon found a willing partner in Historic Union Cemetery.

“It’s actually two plots, so husband and wife … or man and dog … whatever you want,” said Riley. “We actually already had one response on Facebook saying ‘I don’t want to be buried by my wife; can we be buried in separate areas?'”

Will the Condors mandate anything about the burial? Like a logo on a tombstone? Or having the winning fan buried in a Bakersfield jersey?

“That’s interesting. We have had fans that were buried in jerseys or caps or holding pucks. It’s actually a common occurrence,” said Riley.

Like most of their outrageous promotional nights, the Condors announced Cemetery Plot Giveaway Night before its details have been finalized. In the span of our conversation, Riley wondered if the team should drive a hearse out on the ice for the giveaway.

“We should also have the Grim Reaper select the winning entry,” he offered.

One could argue that a hockey fan would rather leave the arena having won an autographed jersey or season tickets rather than a burial plot.

But Riley said those material things are fleeting; the Condors are giving away something eternal.

“There are very few things everyone will need eventually,” said Riley. “This is something everyone needs.”