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AOL Tries M&A Jujitsu, Buys Martial Arts Site MMAFighting

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As the days tick down on CEO Tim Armstrong’s 100-day plan, AOL (NYSE: TWX) has made another small acquisition, this time for its MediaGlow unit. The company has bought mixed-martial-arts site, which will be relaunched within the next two months as part of AOL’s FanHouse sports channel, the company revealed to us. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

I spoke with Marty Moe, SVP for AOL Money & Finance, News & Sports, who said that AOL was attracted to the site for two reasons. One, it’s a growing sport that’s increasing garnering wider TV coverage. Secondly, the global nature of the audience for mixed martial arts is also seen as a way to begin expanding Fanhouse’s view beyond an American audience. “We’re particularly bullish about the MMA category and we saw a good way to build market share internationally with this acquisition,” Moe said. “Plus, it was very agreeable price.”

Acquisition strategy: While Armstrong was enthusiastic about the acquisition, Moe said that this was not a signal of a wider plan to acquire sites for MediaGlow for the sake of it, contrary to speculation. In general, Moe said it is a more focused strategy: “We are head-long in the content publishing business, we’re actively looking at what other opportunities might work for our sites. We’re taking a category by category approach to acquisitions and we’re actively engaged in exploiting market opportunities.”

In-house or outside: Moe sidestepped questions about the balance of building sites in-house or buying up ones to add to its stable. Conversations with AOL execs over the past few months revealed that MediaGlow had planned to have 100 sites by the end of ’09, from 70 in January. By the end of this month, MediaGlow will add exactly 15 new websites. Lately, though, sources have clarified that target, saying that there isn’t a specific numerical goal in mind to its website rollout, and that the number should be considered as more of a ballpark estimate.

Some help wanted: As newspapers and other media outlets have continued to shed jobs the past few months, AOL has served as one of the main media companies actively hiring since this past spring. In addition to keeping most of the staff at MMAFighting, including its freelancers, on board, Moe said AOL is continuing to make editorial hires, though the volume of new jobs available there has slowed down.