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Fuel Rebrands as UFC Climbs on Board

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With UFC programming expected to add muscle to its ratings, Fuel TV is going through a rebranding.

As part of News Corp.'s $700 million deal with the UFC, Fuel TV-which will keep that same name-will air 2,000 hours of mixed martial arts programming in 2012, the most of any TV network ever. That includes more than 100 hours of live fights, pre-fight shows, post-fight shows and weigh-ins. The network might also be getting a new slogan that uses the word "domination."

"As of January 1, this network is going to be a lot more vibrant and energetic," says George Greenberg, general manager of Fuel TV. "Along with that is a complete rebrand of the tone and intention of the network. New music, brand new graphics, a very powerful aggressive presentation that goes along with the programming we're putting on the air. Fuel is getting a complete visual housecleaning."

With the addition of all that UFC programming, the network will be much more selective about any other action programming it airs in order to retain viewers who watch mixed martial arts. A UFC pre-fight show aired on Fuel TV Nov. 12 and viewership among males 18-49 rose 1,350% to 58,000.

Fuel is currently in about 36 million homes, and according to Derek Baine, analyst at SNL Kagan, its ratings couldn't be lower.

"They have really struggled in the ad sales department, and I think they could do a lot more with brand identity," Baine adds.

Greenberg says advertisers have been receptive to the UFC-infused Fuel TV. "There's a real want from the Madison Avenue crowd to attract males 18 to 34," he says. Fuel is selling packages involvingbillboards and title sponsorships, and companies that had not advertised on the channel before in both the car and energy drink categories have shown interest.

"Demand's been great," says Lou LaTorre, president, Fox Cable Ad Sales. "Sellout is above what we had targeted. Pricing is above. And the number of categories that we had focused on being interested is far broader than we anticipated."

The network's new branding will launch with a 24-hour marathon of UFC programming, including a replay of the legendary UFC79 pay-per-view card and the new show Champions Roundtable, hosted by Jay Glazer, Fox's biggest MMA fan. Glazer will also anchor weigh-ins, pre-fight and post-fight shows on Fuel TV for UFC matches airing on Fox and FX.

Fuel's first live UFC broadcast will be Jan. 13 with a weigh-in before the UFC142 pay-per-view event. The network will air preliminary fights before FX's card on Jan 20. And on Feb. 15, Fuel will televise headline bouts featuring Jake Ellenberger vs. Diego Sanchez and Dave Herman vs. Stefan Struve.

Though Greenberg says some current Fuel programming might continue, he wants to add shows that will retain the wave of UFC viewers. He expects to add live surfing and snowboarding, plus a wresting series, a surf reality show and Ultimate Fighter Australia. He's also developing reality comedies. "I'm willing to try anything that makes sense to a male 18-34 demographic, so long as we think we can connect the dots program-to-program," Greenberg says.

The net plans to make Friday a movie night, airing male-skewing films including Predator 2, Reservoir Dogs and Batman.