The 42-year-old takes a long swig from his 24-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a liquid gleam of mischief in his eyes. He’s in a bar in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, and now, on the evening of September 15, 2017, he’s minutes away from attempting his latest hustle: He’s going to walk into the stadium without a ticket.
A waiter from Westchester County, New York, he has conned his way into hundreds of sporting events in his life. He’s posed as a member of the Secret Service protecting a presidential candidate, as a sailor during Fleet Week, even as a Good Samaritan pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair through a gate. He’s hopped turnstiles and run like he was on a prison break, found unlocked doors, acted like he was in Spike Lee’s entourage and played the role of a country rube who lost his ticket.
“The key is confidence,” he says as he places his tallboy on the wooden bar in the South Bronx. “Act like you’re supposed to be there, bro, and they’ll always believe you. I mean, always.”
A second sneaker strolls through the Las Vegas summer evening, striding along the Strip, the neon lights aglow in the warm desert night. It is August 26, 2017, and in this city of risk-taking, the 32-year-old bartender from England is an hour away from the biggest gamble of his life.
Dressed in his finest suit—it’s part of the costume, part of the hustle—he’s plotting to scam his way into one of the most expensive seats in the history of boxing: the front row of the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight. Nearing T-Mobile Arena, his courage fueled by multiple afternoon cocktails, he tells himself: I will do this. I can do this.
A third sneaker cases the outside of Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, slowly walking around its parking lots five hours before Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It is June 19, 2016, and the student from the University of Texas is searching for his opportunity to hoodwink security and make them believe he’s something he’s not: a reporter. Alone and now about to attempt the first sneak of his life into a sporting event, he whispers to himself, If I believe it, they’ll believe it. If I believe it, they’ll believe it.
He keeps moving and assessing the scene, his moment of reckoning at hand, his pulse quickening. This is what virtually every sneaker says they experience at this do-or-don’t crossroad: a rush of adrenaline more powerful than any narcotic.
Yes, to most of them, the sneak is a seductive pursuit.
Sneaking into sporting events is a tradition that dates back to, well, probably the first recorded sporting event in history, a footrace at the Olympics in Greece in 776 B.C. There are the old-school methods of sneaking in with the band or dressing up as a stadium vendor or slipping through a hole in an outfield fence. But sneaking in the age of omnipresent security cameras (not to mention omnipresent iPhones) has raised the stakes: It’s now harder than ever to evade detection—and to avoid a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
There are no statistics that detail how widespread sneaking is today, but after weeks of examining this phenomenon, B/R Mag can confirm this: It happens a lot—certainly with more frequency than any stadium operator would like you to know.
On a recent night at Yankee Stadium, for instance, a reporter watched a dozen people slip into a single entrance 30 minutes before the first pitch. With ticket prices to sporting events at all-time highs, many sneakers view themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, as heroic outlaws who are standing up to the fat-cat team owners who have made it increasingly difficult for the working class to attend professional sporting events.
“I always want to buy a ticket to the games,” says Joe from Westchester County, the sneaker now sitting in a bar on 161st Street outside of Yankee Stadium who has asked that his last name be withheld because he has no plans to stop sneaking. “But when I get to the stadium and can’t find a ticket that I can afford, I say to myself, ‘Fuck it, I’ll just go for free.’”
Strolling outside Oracle Arena, with Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals five hours away, Micah Poag looks nothing like a 19-year-old college student. This is by design, all part of the charade.
Like most students at the University of Texas at Austin, Micah is familiar with the boozy action on Sixth Street, a six-block stretch in downtown Austin lined with bars and juke joints. Micah, now a junior finance major, has seen several of his underage friends use fake IDs to gain entrance to the different drinking establishments.
This spawns an idea. “I thought, ‘What if I made my own kind of fake ID for the NBA Finals?” Micah says. “I originally thought I would go in looking like a stadium worker, but then I thought it would just be easier if I made a press pass and went as a reporter. And I figured everyone knows what an ESPN pass would look like because ESPN has been around forever, but Bleacher Report is this up-and-coming site that has legitimacy, so I thought B/R was the way to go.”
A few days before Game 7, sitting in his Austin apartment, Micah texts a few of his friends and boldly declares he’s going to buy a plane ticket and sneak into the NBA Finals; his buddies are dubious. But Micah is determined to back up his words. He Googles “Bleacher Report press passes” and studies several images. He then heads to a local FedEx office and spends an hour using Photoshop to design his B/R credential. For finishing touches of authenticity, he uses a laminator and attaches the “credential” to a lanyard.
Editor’s note: Yes, he really did pretend to work for our site. But no, Bleacher Report does not condone or endorse this kind of move, which could result in criminal charges, and there are no publicly available images of what one of our current press credentials would look like.
A full-blooded fan of the Warriors and especially of two-time MVP Stephen Curry—he learned about the team playing Xbox—Micah knows well the difference between watching an event from inside the arena as opposed to the couch, to him a difference as dramatic as flying first class versus coach. He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and sat in the front row of Dallas Stars hockey games and behind home plate for Texas Rangers baseball.
“You feel like you’re part of the team when you’re that close,” he says.
Micah returns to his computer. He researches what reporters typically wear to cover NBA basketball games; he sees that many male reporters dress in Oxford blue shirts and khaki pants. He buys a last-minute $300 plane ticket online and stuffs his credential and reporter attire into a bag.
A day later he’s outside the arena, a Bleacher Report “credential” dangling from his neck. He circles Oracle twice on foot. He sees a janitor near a door. Micah wonders if this guy should be his mark—is he the one who will be gullible enough to believe his media ID is legitimate?
Oliver Regis, a 32-year-old bartender from Stamford, Lincolnshire, a town 90 miles north of London, spends the afternoon of the Mayweather-McGregor fight lounging at Wet Republic, the adult playground at the MGM hotel featuring saltwater pools and open-air bars. He pounds several Bud Lights and vodka cranberries. His passion for McGregor is evident to all: He has a tattoo of the fighter emblazoned on his right thigh.
Minutes after tickets for the fight went on sale two months earlier, the bartender with the shaved head purchased a nosebleed seat on Ticketmaster for $2,500. But he has no plans to sit near the rafters of T-Mobile Arena; he brazenly tells strangers at the pool that he’s going to bamboozle his way onto the ground level and into the front row.
The hours pass, and Oliver keeps drinking, fortifying his confidence. “The first time I did this for a fight I was 20 years old and I was so nervous,” Oliver says. “But that was 12 years ago. Now I just have a few drinks before the fight and I’m ready to go.”
Around 5 p.m. Oliver leaves the pool and returns to his MGM hotel room, where he showers and changes into a light-gray suit he had recently purchased for $190. The suit, he believes, will help him blend in with the beautiful people—and the rich and the famous—who will populate the seats closest to the ring.
Still buzzed from his day of drinking, he lumbers to a nearby Outback Steakhouse and eats an eight-ounce filet—his normal pre-sneak meal. Two hours later, he hands his ticket to an usher at T-Mobile and sidles into the arena.
Now his adrenaline is pumping as his eyes dart back and forth, searching for his best route to the floor seats. Oliver is looking for the weakest link in security—an inattentive guard, a herd of people flooding one entrance. But he soon realizes that every high-priced ticket on the arena floor has to be scanned, one by one, by an usher. Worse, every usher appears as serious and stern as a judge.
Oliver is crestfallen. Yet just then, in the dark distance in the bowels of the arena, he spies two very large, very beefy white men in tank tops moving toward a floor entrance. In a heartbeat, Oliver realizes this is his chance.
Joe from Westchester nears Yankee Stadium. He stops at a bodega, walks to the back of the small grocery store and approaches two locals who guard a door. Joe nods his head, the door swings open, and he steps into an open courtyard, where about 100 people are drinking and dancing to salsa music. Swinging by this clandestine party is part of Joe’s normal pregame sneak routine at Yankee Stadium.
“This is where the Bleacher Creatures get it cranked up before games,” Joe says. “The people I used to sneak in with, this is where we’d hang. This is how we do it!”
Standing in the open-air patio, Joe begins to tell stories. In the last 15 years, he says, he has sneaked into almost every iconic New York venue: Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Nassau Coliseum and Giants Stadium, to name a few.
“You always want to search for the area of least resistance,” Joe says in his thick New York accent. “And then when you get to the gate, you need to find the person taking the tickets who looks like they don’t care about their job. If there’s a mad rush of people going in all at once, it’s usually easy to slide behind an usher because the usher is so overwhelmed. And most ushers don’t want confrontation.”
For example, Joe says, at Wayne Gretzky’s last game at the Garden in 1999, he went with a friend and just busted through security. “Then we both ran in opposite directions. There was so much chaos that the usher didn’t do anything.”
Or, Joe says, he’ll buy a ticket for the first night of a four-day concert, then find an out-of-the-way exit door. “I’ll put tape over the lock so the door shuts, but it won’t lock,” he says. “Then I’ll use that door the next three nights.”
Another time, Joe says he saw an elderly man pushing his wife in a wheelchair outside Yankee Stadium and asked, “Can I help you?” Then he pushed the woman, who had a ticket around her neck, through the gate. “Security never asked me for my ticket.”
During Fleet Week in New York, without even changing into a Naval uniform, Joe says he blends in with the sailors as security lets them into Yankee Stadium for free. “When the gates open,” he says, “I walk in with them.”
Another time, when a presidential candidate came to Yankee Stadium, Joe says he saw the Secret Service escort, so he put his right hand to his ear, mimicking the agents, and tried to walk in with them.
“A [Secret] serviceman spotted me and yelled at me, so I left but was never actually detained—and I later snuck in anyway.”
And once at a boxing match at Radio City Music Hall, Joe says there was a door to the side of the main entrance workers were using for smoke breaks. “Once that door opened, I just walked in like I belonged there. That’s so important: Act like you belong.”
Joe leaves the bodega party and walks out into the New York twilight, the night rich with possibility. He meanders around Yankee Stadium, examining each entrance as if he’s a building inspector looking for a structural weakness. After a few minutes of sizing up the scene, he sees what he’s looking for.
He makes his move.
Micah Poag approaches a janitor standing next to a door at Oracle Arena. He figures he has one shot at conning his way in before he attracts the attention of law enforcement. But when he is just a few feet away from the janitor, his nerves grip him. He turns back.
He continues his slow stroll around the stadium, hunting for his opportunity. Minutes later he spots a window washer near another door. Micah presses forward, hoping the washer has a key to unlock the door. Holding his credential and pointing at the door, he asks to be let inside. He repeats himself. Then again.
The window washer doesn’t speak English.
But the washer understands that Micah wants the door opened. So the window washer raps his fist on the metal door. Seconds later, a security guard pushes it open.
This is a worst-case scenario for Micah. But he immediately remembers how his teenage friends back in Austin duped bouncers at bars—by exuding confidence and by acting intensely preoccupied at the precise moment of the interaction, thus forcing the bouncer to feel as if they are in some way bothering the fake ID holder.
Holding his credential in one hand and his cellphone in the other, Micah squeezes through the door. He pretends like he’s dealing with an urgent matter on his phone, texting away, his face contorted. He takes about a dozen steps into Oracle, believing freedom is only feet away. But then the guard yells, “Hey!”
Micah keeps his head buried in his phone, staying in character, his heart thumping, feigning he doesn’t hear her. After a few more steps, he gently lifts his eyes and suddenly sees a safe haven: the men’s bathroom.
He enters a stall. The female security guard doesn’t follow. At one point he leaves the bathroom and takes a photo of the empty arena, which he Snapchats to 100 friends with the words, “Hands shaking cause holy shit.”
Then he returns to the bathroom, sits on a toilet and—wanting to stay unnoticed and look preoccupied—he pulls his pants down.
For the next two hours, he doesn’t move.
When a police officer and a bomb-sniffing dog sweep through the bathroom, Micah doesn’t budge, his khakis still resting at his ankles.
Inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, out on the lower level of the main concourse, Oliver recognizes the faces of the two burly men: They are the bodyguards for Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Oliver had watched the pre-fight press conferences, part of his pre-sneak reconnaissance. “You never know what information you’re going to need,” he says. During a presser, McGregor called Mayweather’s bodyguards “juicehead turkeys,” prompting the cameras to show their faces. Now inside T-Mobile, Oliver identifies Mayweather’s security team.
Oliver race-walks to the bodyguards, pressing so close behind them he can smell their cologne. The ushers wave the bodyguards through the checkpoint—and Oliver as well. As he walks close to the ring, Oliver feels like he’s just entered his own Eden—and like he’s just bagged the biggest elephant in all of Vegas.
He sits in the third row for the fight before the main event. He looks around and is pinch-me-now flabbergasted: LeBron James is in his row. Mike Tyson is a row behind him and Leonardo DiCaprio is about 10 feet away. But then P. Diddy, his girlfriend and his entourage step near. Oliver is in one of their seats. A security guard approaches Oliver and asks to see his ticket. “My girlfriend has it. Let me go get her,” he replies. He rises to leave—he snaps a quick selfie with P. Diddy.
Wandering ringside, he can’t help himself. He poses for selfies with the likes of Tyson, Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler. Oliver is in sneak-in nirvana, experiencing the crowning hour of his sneaking career.
He returns to an empty seat in the eighth row.
The fight starts and Oliver is hypnotized, hearing the grunting of the fighters and the violent smacks of glove and flesh. At one point he turns to a man behind him and asks him how much he paid for his ticket.
“It cost me $45,000 to be here,” the man says.
Oliver so badly wants to tell the man his sneaking story, but he fears his cover could be blown. He’ll share his secret soon enough.
Micah rises from the toilet inside Oracle Arena. He wanders out onto the concourse now filled with thousands of fans. He lets out a deep breath; the kid has done it.
He finds an empty seat near the arena’s top rim—“I didn’t want to press my luck by going down low,” he says—and watches the first quarter of Game 7. A man arrives and informs Micah that he’s in his seat. Not wanting to cause a stir, Micah leaves. For the rest of the game, he hopscotches around Oracle, viewing LeBron and Steph from steps and aisles and portals. During it all, he believes this is quite possibly the greatest day of his life.
After the game, Micah heads down to the court, where the Cavaliers are celebrating their first NBA title. A security officer stops him, but Micah bullishly flashes his “press credential” and is waved forward. He takes a selfie before another officer realizes his press pass doesn’t have the words “all-access” on it. Micah is told he can’t go any farther.
A lesson for the future, however, has just been learned.
At an entrance located beyond the Yankee Stadium outfield, Joe from Westchester spots a security guard who looks like he’d rather be anywhere than working a baseball game. He’s yawning and constantly checking his watch. This is Joe’s kind of man.
Joe places a few items on a conveyor belt to run through a metal detector. Then, standing behind a few fans, he waits until the security guard is distracted. Joe grabs his belongings and stealthily glides into the stadium unnoticed. The ease of this sneak is staggering.
Joe plants himself in the front row out in left field. “Just another day at the office, bro,” he says. “Just another day at my Yankee Stadium office.”
Joe turns to watch an at-bat, a devilish grin stretching across his face.
Shortly after watching Mayweather score a technical knockout over McGregor in the 10th round, Oliver returns to his MGM hotel room. Back in the U.K., several of his friends had seen him on television in the crowd, and he responds to dozens of astonished text messages. Alone in his room, he senses his life may have changed.
He posts pictures on Facebook and Twitter. He sends emails to reporters in the U.K., detailing his sneak and asking them if they’d pay him for an interview. Two agree to his demands. A London reporter calls him at 3 a.m. Within hours, the story of his sneak reaches virtually every corner of the globe. [B/R Mag did not pay Oliver for his cooperation.]
“I wanted to make money, and I wanted to be famous,” says Oliver, who was never contacted by any authorities. “I was on television in the United States and in Australia. The BBC came to my pub for a story. It’s weird to say, but I’m now like a local celebrity here at home.”
Oliver recently went out for a night of drinking with his buddies in his town Stamford, Lincolnshire. Before walking into the first pub, Oliver bets his boys that five strangers will ask him for selfies. His friends happily accept the £20 wager.
Oliver is way off. By the end of the evening, more than 20 people have their picture taken with the bartender who hustled his way into seats more valuable than Oliver’s own life savings.
For Oliver, the search for his next score already is underway.
The news of the Game 7 sneak travels at warp speed throughout Austin, powered by Micah’s Facebook posts showing images of the night he outwitted security at Oracle Arena.
At fraternity parties, in bars, even in class, students treat Micah like a conquering hero, practically throwing rose petals at his feet for pulling off his daring scam. A friend acts as his publicist and sets up an interview with a Dallas radio station. After Micah’s appearance, several stories are written about the kid who conned his way into the biggest NBA game of the season.
The Oakland district attorney isn’t amused, asking Micah to fly back to California for a face-to-face meeting. Micah obliges. To avoid prosecution on a trespassing charge, Micah writes a dozen apology letters—to the Warriors, to the NBA, to the security firm hired for Game 7. He is banned from all NBA games for a year and recently completed community service.
Does Micah regret his stunt? He’s eating lunch in an Austin restaurant and, before answering, takes a long sip of water. All stadium sneakers excel at reading the body language of others, of detecting—in poker parlance—classic tells. But now Micah is expressionless.
He explains that he fears how the Oakland DA will view his words. “I’ll say this: I have more confidence now than I’ve ever had in my life, and it’s because of what I did,” Micah says. “I was able to do something that no one thought I could, and that really has made me believe in myself. I almost feel like I’m a different person now, a better person, a person who believes in himself.”
He’s asked again: Does he regret his sneak?
Now Micah can’t suppress his own tell.
Lars Anderson is a senior writer at B/R Mag. A 20-year veteran of Sports Illustrated, Anderson is the New York Times best-selling author of eight books, most recently The Quarterback Whisperer. Follow him on Twitter: @LarsAnderson71.