When the South Carolina club hockey team was created in 2001, it started off as a group of friends who wanted to continue playing hockey. Now, through its social media, success on the ice and merchandise sales, the team has grown its presence at South Carolina.
However, this growth stalled abruptly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since there were not any games being played during that time, Cock Hockey had to rely on social media to promote itself in order to stay relevant, according to Liam Gormley, a senior goalie on the team and the head of creative media.
“When we learned we didn’t have a season, I was looking for ways to stay involved, and my roommate at the time, Ben Smith, was in charge of all our creative media and our social media stuff, so I started helping him make TikToks and other stuff,” Gormley said. "His last words to me were, ‘You’ll figure it out.’”
Over the past two and a half years, Cock Hockey has accumulated 38,500 followers across three different social media platforms as of April 1.
Between Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, Cock Hockey’s most popular account is its TikTok, which has more than 17,000 followers. Its Instagram page has more than 14,000 followers, 5,500 of which were added during the 2022-2023 season.
Its oldest page, Twitter, has amassed about 7,300 followers since its creation in March 2012. The page gained 4,800 followers during the past two and a half years, with 2,100 of those followers coming over the course of the 2022-2023 season.
All of this popularity online has translated to ticket sales.
During the 2019-2020 season, the team sold out four games — two of which were against rival Clemson — and in the 2021-2022 season, the team completely sold out five of its games and ran out of student tickets for two others.
This season, Cock Hockey sold out the final home game against Clemson in under six minutes. This was the third sold out game of the season, alongside the season opener against the College of Charleston and a Friday night game against the University of Tennessee.
“To be able to go out — and just hearing all the fans instead of going into an empty arena — it definitely makes you want to play a hundred times more,” sophomore defender Ronan Mulkerrin said. “Especially being from up North, you play a high school hockey game anywhere, (it's) sold out, and coming down here, I really wasn’t sure how it’d be.”
Another direct impact of the popularity of Cock Hockey has been in recruitment. This past season, junior defenseman Zach List joined the team as a transfer from an NCAA Division III school, and freshman center Jake Puskar committed to the team after learning about it on social media.
As a club organization, Cock Hockey receives some funding from the university. According to senior winger and team captain Mike Bolger, however, the amount is less than 1% of its overall funding.
A majority of its funding comes from merchandise and jersey sales. The merchandise sales — items such as pins, sweatshirts and hoodies — are dependent on home game attendance. Jerseys, which can be bought online during a limited time frame, are the only things that are sold outside game days.
Over a two-year period, Cock Hockey had over 3,000 sales, which allowed it to support travel for away games, conference championships and national championship tournaments, according to the team.
During the 2022-2023 season, the Cock Hockey merchandise team came out with a black jersey with "Cocks" on the front. The jersey won The Hockey House podcast’s Jersey of the Year award and made an appearance on a Barstool Sports hockey podcast through its Instagram account called Spittin' Chiclets.
Co-captain and senior center Mike Bolger said he remembers when the team passed out pamphlets on Greene Street to spread the word about Cock Hockey — a stark contrast to its multiple sold out games in the 2022-2023 season.
"It's kind of a tribute to our social media content, and we're more competitive on the ice than we were then," Bolger said. "The biggest changes (have) been fan interactions, and every year we just get better players."