Danny Wimmer Presents CEO Responds To AEG Lawsuit Over Two Rock Fests (Exclusive)



Rock on the Range
Scott Legato/Getty Images
– Rock on the Range
Happier times at Rock On The Range in Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

AEG Presents accused former rock festival co-promoter Danny Wimmer Presents of walking away from previous agreements to stage Rock on the Range and Carolina Rebellion, without compensation and  announcing competing events, in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Nov. 29.

The 25-count, 114-page complaint accuses DWP of “divorcing” its co-promoter of 11 years, shutting down the fests and simply renaming them Sonic Temple and Epicenter, respectively, staging them at roughly the same time as the two longer-running but defunct festivals.  

“This surprising turn of events,” as AEG Presents characterized the announcement of the two new festivals, followed a deterioration of the companies’ relationship in recent years, culminating in a late August decision by DWP that it no longer wished to co-produce Rock on the Range or Carolina Rebellion with AEG Presents.

About two weeks later, Danny Wimmer Presents announced the inaugural Sonic Temple, another hard rock festival, would take place at 27,000-capacity MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, May 17-19.  A week after a lineup was announced, on Nov. 30, the promoter announced Epicenter would take place May 10-12 in Rockingham, N.C. – across the street from the site where Carolina Rebellion took place its second year. 

While neither AEG Presents nor DWP submitted box office reports for Rock on the Range in 2018, the event did post sellouts over three days in 2017, with a record 135,000 tickets sold and gross of $6,449,591; and in 2016 with 120,000 tickets sold for a gross of $6,804,796. The same capacity was sold out in 2015 for a gross of $4,293,389, according to reports submitted to Pollstar. Neither company submitted box office reports for Carolina Rebellion.

In its complaint, AEG accuses DWP of rejecting a buyout offer for ROTR and Carolina Rebellion.

“If DWP deemed the price to be too high, it could have sold its interest; if DWP deemed the price to be too low, it could have bought AEG’s interest,” the complaint reads. “DWP chose to do neither, as it had secretly and deceptively laid the groundwork to take the goodwill associated with both Festivals for itself without compensating AEG at all.”

The complaint alleges breach of fiduciary duty; breach of contract; fraudulent misrepresentation; concealment; interference with contract, trademark infringement and unfair competition, among other charges.

AEG Presents did not respond to a request for comment before press deadline; however, Danny Wimmer Presents CEO Danny Hayes and attorney Matthew Oster did, and dispute the charges as well as the characterization that they’d “schemed in secret” to essentially steal and rename the original festivals in dispute.

“The contracts were done year to year and, in this case, the contract was over. There were no contracts for either of the 2018 shows because the relationship had already broken down by that point,” Oster told Pollstar. “DWP actually was trying to get some kind of agreement on how to move forward and AEG just wouldn’t play ball. They went ahead and did the [2018] shows because they were already sort of set up for it, but there wasn’t even a contract for that last show.”

“I’m not surprised that AEG didn’t attach the actual underlying agreements to its complaint, because that agreement makes it abundantly clear that DWP acted within its rights,” Hayes said, adding that DWP’s plans could not have been secret, because up until the time they walked away from the arrangement with AEG Presents, they’d been sharing information for a 2019 edition.

“We were trying to make 2019 happen with them,” Hayes told Pollstar. “We hit that point of no return where you have to lock in venues and make offers to bands or there’s going to be no festival. The bands were saying, ‘Guys, if you don’t make offers soon, we’re going to have to go somewhere else.’ So we went to AEG and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ … Are we making offers on behalf of DWP or are we making them on behalf of DWP and AEG?’ At that moment we couldn’t make a deal, so I said ‘that’s too bad.’”

Oster added that AEG told the company, “It was ‘our way or the highway’ and DWP just wasn’t willing to fold under. It came to the decision point and no one saw eye to eye on it, so DWP said ‘OK we’re going to go our way and you go your own way.’

“At that point nothing was signed, there were no artist deals, no venue deal and, at that point, both sides just tried to do their own thing. What happened after that is DWP managed to win back that balanced competitive fight and what we have now is a sour grapes situation.”

According to Hayes, both companies subsequently approached MAPFRE Stadium and eventually AEG put a hold on Buckeye Stadium – the Ohio State University football stadium – at the same time for 2019 festival. Initially, Hayes and Oster concede, MAPFRE Stadium officials said they decided to continue negotiating with AEG Presents and broke off talks with DWP.

“Danny Wimmer had to fly out and get personally in front of the venue folks and basically did a ‘Hail Mary’ to get it done,” Oster said, adding that AEG had also begun making offers to the same bands DWP was going after.

“Interestingly, they knew who the same bands were because Danny [Hayes] had provided them with a list,” Oster said.

AEG Presents has not announced competing rock festivals to Sonic Temple or Epicenter, but in the meantime has acquired Midwest promoter PromoWest Productions, based in Columbus, Ohio, giving the Los Angeles-based promotion company a solid base of operations should it choose to.

For its part, AEG says in the complaint that DWP has presented Sonic Temple as simply Rock on the Range with new branding.

“DWP relied upon deceit and fraud to achieve its goal of stealing these highly acclaimed festivals,” the complaint says. “Because DWP could not misappropriate the Festivals as long as AEG was a party to the contracts for the Festivals’ venues, DWP encouraged AEG to permit AEG’s own venue deals to end, and to allow DWP to assume the rule of liaison with the venues, purportedly  on behalf of the Partnerships, by representing that DWP would negotiate better terms with the venues on behalf of the Partnerships. However, instead of negotiating on behalf of the Partnerships, DWP secretly negotiated its own deals with the venues that had previously hosted the Festivals.”

AEG seeks, among other things, undetermined compensatory, treble and exemplary damages; a temporary restraining order and injunction preventing DWP from producing “replacement” festivals for ROTR or Carolina Rebellion; using any of the marks or intellectual property from them; an accounting; and attorney and court fees.