[Updated with a statement from LaunchTN]
Just two months after PandoMedia Inc., parent company of PandoDaily, announced a rebranding of its flagship conference, it is suing Launch Tennessee, organizer of the Southland Technology & Southern Culture, over the latter’s alleged partnership with a competing tech website.
Previously, Pando and LaunchTN teamed up for the Nashville-based Southland conference, but the two sides parted ways late last year amid disagreements over the allocation of profits. Following the split, both parties announced plans to host competing conferences, both of which will be held in Nashville this June. Pando will host “Pandoland” and LaunchTN will host “36/86.” Both events are timed to precede Tennessee’s popular Bonnaroo Music Festival, and both are aimed at similar markets.
In a more recent announcement, LaunchTN said that editors from AOL Inc.’s TechCrunch have signed on to lead interviews for its event.
But in a legal complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Northern California, Pando claims that affiliation violates a termination clause in Pando’s previous agreement with LaunchTN. According to the lawsuit, the clause expressly prohibits LaunchTN from partnering with “another national media company” to host a similar conference for at least one year following the termination date.
The clause reads as follows, per the legal complaint:
“In the event this Agreement is terminated by either party, each party understands and agrees that, as between Pando and LaunchTN or any of their successors or affiliates, LaunchTN retains the right to host a conference within the southeastern, regional target market of Southland held the week prior to the Bonnaroo Music festival so long as Launch TN does not partner with another national media company for a period of one year from such termination date. In addition, Pando retains the right to host a conference during the Bonnaroo Music festival.”
After Pando’s lawyer contacted LaunchTN about the situation, LaunchTN said it didn’t view its agreement with TechCrunch as a “partnership,” the lawsuit states.
In a statement to International Business Times, a spokeswoman for LaunchTN called the lawsuit “baseless” and denied the appearance of TechCrunch editors constitutes a partnership:
“Launch Tennessee is not partnering with TechCrunch for 36/86 ... Jon Shieber, John Biggs [TechCrunch editors] and Regan Carrizales have committed to participate as an interviewer/moderator, and that is the extent of their involvement. These interviewers will be present, along with a roster of other luminaries from the startup world. Members of the press come to cover important trends on startups, tech and culture in our region. To date, we have extended complimentary press passes to Forbes, Silicon Prairie News and TechCrunch, among others. We plan on extending more press passes as we get closer to the highly anticipated conference. Qualified media can request to attend for free through our web site. We have no contracts for media partnerships.”
Pando’s founder and chief executive, Sarah Lacy, is a former writer for TechCrunch. Both brands are known for their events.
The first Southland Conference was held in 2013, and the lawsuit characterizes it as a flop, “largely empty,” aside from an on-stage interview hosted by Lacy. The two sides later decided to team up more extensively for Southland 2014, collaborating on development, promotion, programming and sponsorship funding. With Pando’s help, the lawsuit states, the 2014 event was “much more successful,” selling out seats and attracting attendees with prominent national speakers such as Al Gore, Christy Turlington-Burns and Bill Ready.
To make matters particularly sticky, LaunchTN’s conference is slated to take place one week before Pandoland. The lawsuit claims LaunchTN’s partnership with TechCrunch is damaging Pando's goodwill and diverting ticket sales and other revenue.
Pando is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions to maintain the status quo of the agreement, in addition to compensatory damages.
Read the full legal complaint here.