When the publisher of Mesaba Airlines inflight magazine paid me a couple hundred bucks to write a story about camping and canoeing on the Zumbro River, I thought I was rich. That was about 30 years ago, and I wrote those few hundred words for the thrill of the story, not for the money. I quickly earned a passion for publishing, as well as a potential for paychecks if I kept at it.
Over the years, I’ve sometimes misplaced that passion. Have you?
Scott Tiffany hasn’t. A passion for publishing and hockey impelled Tiffany to create Minnesota Hockey magazine three decades ago. He’s managed it, fought for it, and grown it into a leading print and digital publication – all while maintaining a separate full-time career (also in publishing).
In 1988, in a marketing class at the College of St. Thomas (later St. Thomas University), professor George Masko assigned then-student Tiffany to create and market a product. Starting with a love for hockey and interest in publishing, Tiffany created Minnesota Hockey magazine.
“I was working in the newspaper industry at the time and wrote a business plan for this marketing class. My professor took me aside and said, ‘You gotta do this.’ I was more concerned about graduating from college than I was about starting a hockey magazine.”
Another group was also starting a hockey magazine. Tiffany and this group tried to work together. True to the game, the gloves came off – figuratively – and a fight ensued.
“I used my ‘phone a friend’ privilege and got pro bono legal assistance from my former professor Masko,” said Tiffany. “At about the same time I met my wife-to-be Jelaine, and she was a real rock that helped me through a lousy time. I had all sorts of offers for assistance, and in the end I took the high road and let it play out in court. I learned a lot lessons, most of which I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Greed makes people do crazy things.”
We won’t get into the legal fisticuffs; let’s just say the actions of some were considered unsportsmanlike. A settlement granted Tiffany the Minnesota Hockey title, plus content and design rights, and more. He settled into creating a respected brand for Minnesota Hockey, all while maintaining a career in the circulation department at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and raising a family. And the magazine did suffer some of the same ills of other print publications.
“When the newspaper industry was crashing in the early 2000s, and the Pioneer Press State Circulation department downsized, I thought about what I wanted to do with Minnesota Hockey. And I decided to bring back the magazine in digital format.”
Tiffany spent his time researching and learning about new media and looking for ways to build Minnesota Hockey digitally. He had “partners” that came and went along with thoughts of money and opportunities. Constant through it all, however, was his original plan for Minnesota Hockey, plus his faith in God and the support of quality contributors. What he needed now was a mechanism to reach an audience of Minnesota hockey fans.
“Our first website was going to be a one-stop shop for all things in Minnesota hockey,” said Tiffany, “but we soon realized that with a limited number of resources in people and cash, this was nearly impossible to manage. We tried, but soon saw how we really couldn’t satisfy everyone at the level we wanted to, and it was frustrating part of the journey. We had great writers and photographers, but we had a very limited audience and were getting lost in the online world. We made ourselves miserable, pleased no one and if something didn’t change, we would continue to be lost in the crowd and lose our content providers and audience.”
Tiffany’s team of contributors asked him to give print a try, again.
“One other thing to note is that during this period, my life was being consumed at work. By this time, I saw my department at the Pioneer Press shrink even more, eventually going from 22 people when I started to where I was the last full-time person overseeing the department. This is one period I would personally like a do-over on; my family time was all but taken away, and I was under incredible pressure to get the Minnesota Hockey print magazine launched.”
In March of 2015 Tiffany launched the new Minnesota Hockey print publication; it was a guide for the boys’ state high school hockey tournament. The magazine was a content hit and all of the local hotels were asking for the magazine to give to their hotel guests during tournament week.
“In 2015 and 2016 we just did these annual state tournament guides. Everyone who worked with me on these had full-time jobs, it was a labor of love. We have great writers and photographers who are independent contractors. All except our General Manager who is retired and helps us now.
Each tournament special issue had more pages than the previous one, and more hotels for distribution. In 2017, Tiffany added another print publication, recapping that year’s Minnesota Hockey Day event in Stillwater. That issue of the magazine won a Silver Medal at the MMPA Awards of Excellence celebration.
At about the same time, Tiffany ended his long career in circulation at the Pioneer Press and moved to the Star Tribune for a position doing for the same work he’d done for more than 30 years on the other side of the river.
Tiffany, his team, and Minnesota Hockey magazine have continued publishing special issues around hockey in Warroad, St. Cloud, and the recent Hockey Day in Bemidji. With his unique experience and connections in print circulation, Tiffany has been able to spread Minnesota Hockey content and grow a faithful audience. A partnership with the Star Tribune now has Minnesota Hockey as an added value publication to newspaper digital subscribers, increasing the magazine’s audience both digitally and in print.
“Our recent Hockey Day issue covered the coldest hockey day ever,” said Tiffany, “and I was pleasantly surprised to see the magazine was selling strong at the event, as long as the product was available. Twice they had to replenish copies. That issue is now on newsstands around the state and it will be interesting to see how it sells after the event. We added 20 pages of content for our final edition.”
“Minnesota Hockey could have been at a full-time career for me at some point. But I like what I do with the newspaper,” he said, “and I’m good at it. I enjoy working with people around the state, I like the distribution business, and I like my full time gig and the Star Tribune organization now.
“We have a plan, and we have a group of great writers and photographers. So now we’re doing what we want to do, things we think people will find interesting. My role has changed a lot; instead of chasing stories I’m working on relationships and new challenges.
“People say print is dead; I don’t agree. You need to create the product that people want to keep. We keep that in our minds. We’re creating mini books with interesting stories about hockey in special regions of the state. We are not looking to report on games. You can find that on someone’s Twitter feed. We’re trying to produce keepsakes. And in the hockey world, many communities take pride in their heritage, and they want their stories told.
“It’s more of a labor of love than anything. I started this 30 years ago. I do have other ambitions, another magazine to launch down the road, maybe after I retire from the newspaper business. But I like to work. In all this, I want to thank my family who has allowed me to reach my vision of producing a great hockey magazine for the state. I have been blessed with a great wife of 28 years, plus four super kids and two grandchildren.