Former ASU swimmer Kyle Sockwell, the self-proclaimed CEO of swimming social media, upends the sport’s coverage

Kyle Sockwell, former ASU swimming and diving captain turned social media influencer, reflects on his journey from Pokemon bribes to online stardom in the swimming community. (File photo by Mia Jones/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Former Arizona State swimming and diving captain Kyle Sockwell was bribed to join the sport. His mother bought him Pokemon cards to help entice him off the starting block.

“But I mean, this Charizard right here, if there are any nerds out there listening, is a pretty hefty price tag attached to that one, depending on what it would get graded at,” Sockwell said. “But I like to say that that card, I pulled it out of my pack that my mom had to give me to bribe me to swim my first race.”

That one card led Sockwell to a successful collegiate swimming career, which included three seasons at Arizona State. Sockwell became team captain and performed under legendary coach Bob Bowman, who helped guide Sockwell in the right direction at the end of his career.

While he was still an ASU student, Sockwell began his media career posting swimming content on the six-second, mega-popular app Vine before it was shut down in January 2017.

“It was essentially like TikTok before TikTok, but a whole lot less features for editing,” Sockwell said. “It was tap your phone, hold record, let go, and then you have to do it again. I saw that and I was like, ‘I could mess around and make some terrible swimming content.’ And I did, and no one was doing it at the time, so it didn’t matter how good I was.

“It was the only swimming content that you can get on the platform, so I had a monopoly.”

Today, he is the self-proclaimed President & CEO of Swimming Twitter (X) and one of the sport’s go-to sources for insightful and quirky content leading up to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

Sockwell posts videos and commentary of swim meets from all over the country to his 40,000-plus followers. Additionally, he posts longer-form videos on YouTube, where he has more than 36,000 subscribers.

“Twitter came along, and I started messing around with some stuff on Twitter. And as it started to really take shape, I started to see a little hole in the market for swimming media,” he said. “There wasn’t really personalities per se. And if you look at any other sport, there are a plethora of personalities.”

Sockwell says SwimSwam and Swimming World are two platforms that push out content, which makes it easier to be a fan. SwimSwam was founded in March 2012 to provide coverage for swimming fans around the country.

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“We’ve always just tried to give swimming people the opportunity to follow the sport the way that everybody follows football, basketball, baseball, soccer, stuff like that,” SwimSwam editor in chief Braden Keith said.

As the 2024 Summer Olympics are less than five months away, an increased number of people are tuning into SwimSwam and Sockwell’s content. Sockwell says there’s a cycle between each summer Olympics: a slow build up, and then suddenly everyone is interested.

Bowman, alongside ASU junior swimmer Léon Marchand and senior Lindsay Looney, spoke with the media on Feb. 22 to discuss the postseason meets. But Bowman was also happy to speak about Sockwell’s positive social media swimming presence.

“He’s doing a tremendous service for the sport online,” Bowman said. “He’s heavily invested in college swimming and trying to promote it, follow it, get it to be more popular in the sort of mainstream, at least in the social media aspect.

“He’s a hard worker, loves swimming, and was enthusiastic about the things that we were doing. He was one of the first guys that helped us get things started. So we’re very proud of him and all the things that he’s doing right now to help the sport of swimming.”

While the sport’s coverage has advanced because of Sockwell and SwimSwam, Bowman asserts collegiate swimming’s structure can be improved. ASU’s dual meets begin with the 200-yard medley relay for both men and women. The longest of the 32-event meet — the 1000-yard freestyle — follows the opening relays, which last 10 minutes.

“We are trying to change the order of events, change the way that the events are presented, and have more things that are fan-friendly and more interactive,” Bowman said. “I think that’s important. I think you’re seeing some teams do that around the country, already, with some success. So I think we want people at ASU to fill these stands. We could have 2500 or 3000 people at every meet if it’s something that they value coming to see, and it’s a lot of fun.”

The current swimming world is stocked with compelling athletes and story lines. Katie Ledecky is preparing to return for her fourth Olympics in 2024, while ASU’s men team boasts the No. 1 program in the country, with swimmers Hubert Kós, Zalan Sarkany and Marchand, who broke Michael Phelps’ final world record in the 400-meter individual medley at the 2023 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

Understanding and seeing the athletes’ personalities is key to swimming’s growth.

“(Léon) has already had one situation where he’s let a word slip on an interview, and it blew up and everyone fell in love with it,” Sockwell said, referring to an interview on NBC after Marchand shattered Phelps’ 21-year-old record in the 400 IM.

“(Swimmers) not trying to filter themselves is what I think will really take the sport to the next level. Sure, Léon breaking Phelps’ record was huge, but I would argue that him being himself in interviews and teaching the younger generation of athletes that they can be themselves in interviews (is equally important).

“They can use that microphone time that they’ve earned to then amplify who they are and amplify their brand and amplify their wallet at the same time.”

Tyler Bednar(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Tyler Bednar expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Bednar has interned at the Chicago Dogs baseball team in Rosemont, Illinois, and the Miracle League of Arizona in Scottsdale.