CTS Eventim CEO Klaus-Peter Schulenberg On His Business Philosophy, Building A Billion-Dollar Company & The Spencer Davis Group

Cover of Pollstar
– Cover of Pollstar
March 1, 2021 issue

There are many ingredients to success. A common one among certain entrepreneurs is a healthy disregard for naysayers. They find motivation in being told that something is impossible, it fuels their determination to prove the doubters wrong. This kind of individual isn’t afraid to fail either, as failure is the quickest way of realizing what they shouldn’t be focusing on. At the same time, these successful leaders don’t get carried away, but rather make it a point to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground. 

Klaus-Peter Schulenberg, CEO of live entertainment giant CTS Eventim, realized early on, while still in school, that his talent as a band manager and booker outshone his talent as a performing musician. He used to dump his school bag in a corner the moment he returned home from school to ring up venues and book shows for his band, in which he played guitar and organ. He managed to secure weekly gigs all over the place, and it didn’t take long for other local bands in Schulenberg’s hometown of Bremen, Germany, to take note: here was this mediocre band outselling the competition, which had more potential but wasn’t able to reel in shows.

That’s how Schulenberg began to book concerts for other bands as well, scaling his business — even as a teenager. His commercial breakthrough came when signing a German Schlager icon, the late Bernd Clüver, as a management client in the early 1970s. Since Schulenberg was only 19 at the time – Germany lowered the age of majority from 21 to 18 in 1975 – his father had to sign the contract. A wise move, as Clüver’s first single (“Der Junge mit der Mundharmonika”) was an instant hit, selling some two million copies.

The Clüver deal marked the beginning of Schulenberg’s commercial success as an artist manager and concert and tour promoter, although he soon diversified and invested in other businesses as well, including dailies, ad journals, radio stations and more. All of his endeavors are united under the KPS Group, including CTS Eventim, which Schulenberg purchased in 1996, when it was still known as CTS Computer Ticket Service GmbH. The new name came in 2000, when the company went public and began to acquire stakes in various German promotion companies. In-between, the KPS Concertbüro promoted some of Germany’s biggest concerts: The Rolling Stones’ “Bridges to Babylon” tour in 1998 as well as Westernhagen’s farewell concert in 1999, both of which attracted some 90,000 fans to Hamburg’s Trabrennbahn, respectively. Ed Sheeran came close to that in 2018 when he performed at the same venue during his “Divide” tour, the biggest tour of all-time. Since the promoter of that show, Folkert Koopmans’ FKP Scorpio, is part of CTS Eventim’s pan-European promoter network Eventim Live, it counts as another milestone on Schulenberg’s ever increasing list of accomplishments. He spoke about a few more milestones during this interview, conducted during the most challenging time this industry has ever faced. 

CTS Eventim was on a roll several years before the world of live got shut down. The company broke the awe-inspiring $1 billion revenue mark in its earnings report for the fiscal year of 2017 and continued to grow both its ticketing and promotion segments in every quarter that followed. During that phase it felt like CTS Eventim announced a new acquisition every other week, culminating in the formation of Eventim Live, which currently includes 35 promoters in 15 countries. The foundations for expansion in North America were laid in the beginning of 2020, just before the crisis hit, when Schulenberg partnered with none other than Michael Cohl, the Canadian promoter icon and former Live Nation chairman who helped pioneer the modern-day mega tour. Like most of the deals Schulenberg has entered into, this one’s a partnership, where CTS Eventim and Michael Cohl will each hold 50 percent of the shares of the new company while CTS Eventim will be fully consolidating revenues and earnings.

Throughout the rise of CTS Eventim, from local promoter in Bremen to ticketing market leader and touring/festival powerhouse in Europe, Schulenberg has made sure to never take on any risks he didn’t feel confident handling and to always operate under what he describes as a restrictive financial policy. It’s the reason he hasn’t yet laid off one employee in the context of COVID and has already announced two new promoter acquisitions in 2021.

Still, it’s a strange time to talk about success, in particular with a man like Schulenberg, who won’t boast during the best of times. He’s worried about the business he has helped build, but remains optimistic about the coming months, in particular Q3 and Q4 of this year. But he says he is not as optimistic as former WME Head Of Music and now SaveLive founder Marc Geiger, who has predicted a new golden age of live. A key factor will be politicians realizing that access to culture is essential for the social cohesion within society and tailoring their reopening plans and financial aid packages accordingly. Another one will be the vaccine rollout, which CTS Eventim has been facilitating by providing a booking platform for people’s vaccination appointments. The company has also developed its state-of-the-art software to enable the automatic allocation of distanced seats and allow visitors to enter their details prior to an event to help with tracking and tracing.

In other words, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg and his team have been doing what they can to help bring back live. And once it returns, CTS Eventim will be ready to pick up where it left off: establishing itself as one of the world’s most successful live entertainment companies.

The list of companies
– The list of companies
that are part of the Eventim Live family has grown significantly, since the network was officially formed in 2019, when this graphic was released.

Pollstar: Do you remember your first live concert?
Klaus-Peter Schulenberg: I remember it very well. It’s been a very long time. The Spencer Davis Group and The Kinks at the Stadthalle in Bremen. There were, I believe, seven or eight other bands on the bill, which I can’t remember in detail. The German group The Lords were part of them. I must have been around 14 years old.
At what point did you realize you wanted to earn a living working in the live events business?
There was never a particular moment, it all developed. I used to perform in a band myself, then started promoting shows for regional bands, it all happened very organically. It’s been steady progress.
Did you abandon your business and law studies because you got too busy as a promoter and manager, or because the subjects bored you?
Things worked out very well. I already had a staff of more than ten even while I was studying. Economically, there was no point in pursuing my studies any further. They didn’t challenge me as much as the live business did.
You benefited from your economic prowess and legal understanding throughout your career. Did you pick up enough while still at Uni, or did you pick it all up along the way?
I had completed my basic business studies, which covered the fundamentals. I then switched to law long enough to gain an understanding that benefited me in my professional development.
You’re part of the generation that built this business from scratch. Do you get nostalgic when remembering the early days or are you happy that it’s become a more professional business?
Everything was easier in the old days. You didn’t have comprehensive contracts, a lot of things were left unregulated, there was less cause for conflict than today.
What’s your philosophy for life?
Never give up.

Klaus-Peter Schulenberg
Muir Vidler
– Klaus-Peter Schulenberg
tanding in front of one piece of his vast empire: The Eventim Apollo in London, England.
You weren’t even old enough to sign your first contract as an artist manager when you signed Bernd Clüver, so your father signed. How important was the support of your parents in those days?
Without the complete support from my parents, none of it would have been possible. In 1970/1971, my father signed a contract, in which I guaranteed that I would pay the artist Bernd Clüver 30,000 Deutschmarks annually, which was considerable. Whether I would have found a way to make the deal without him is guesswork, but it was a huge vote of confidence from my parents.
Signing Bernd Clüver marked the beginning of real commercial success. It placed you in a position to acquire CTS in 1996, which generated some 6 million Deutschmarks in revenue annually back then. What have been the most important business milestones since?
The most important one may have been created in 1997. Incorporating my entire know-how as promoter, we had a new software developed, which was able to serve the entire world with tickets, out of one single database, in multiple languages and currencies – which was quite visionary at that time, if I may say so. It formed the basis for the success of CTS. During software development, we placed the focus on being able to serve three million ticket buyers at the same time. All the other ticketing systems used to crash when the pre-sales began, some still do to this day.
Another milestone was the decision to enter the live entertainment business and build a pan-European network of promoters, who were able to promote concerts and festivals at a level quite different from what they had been used to, thanks to our technical know-how and digital reach.
When did you make the decision to build up the network?
After going public in 2000.
What are you looking for in the promoters you acquire?
We’ve always been commercially driven, while making sure that partnerships form foundation of our deals. We like entering into proper partnerships, in which we share the fruits of our labor.
You mentioned the ticketing system and the IPO in 2000. What’s one more milestone to round out the top 3?
The soccer World Cup in Germany in 2006. A true milestone if there ever was one. 
For the sheer number of tickets sold?
And the first time a ticketing system was able to handle a World Cup without breaking down.
CTS Eventim
Courtesy Rock Am Ring
– CTS Eventim
owns some of Europe’s biggest festivals, including Germany’s iconic Rock Am Ring.
What is your business philosophy?
To be clear and transparent in business and fair in human relationships. It makes you assessable, which comes with a lot of advantages.
Have you ever considered changing your philosophy during this past year?
No, not once. Our finances have always been solid, we always made sure not to enter into incalculable deals and avoided the accumulation of debt to the greatest extent possible. It is the reason we’ve been able to lead our staff through this crisis. We haven’t laid off one employee in the context of corona.
And yet your offices are empty.
I’m in the office all the time, but between 90% and 95% of our employees work from home. We had sent our staff into home offices even before it became a regulatory requirement. And we had created the technical prerequisites beforehand, so that working from home would meet our standards.
Do you recall your last live concert before everything shut down in March 2020?
Yes, I remember it very well. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.
Were you able to draw any lessons from this past year?
Health is more important than business.
This year also confirmed that we have been smart to follow a restrictive financial policy. It has ensured that we were able to hold on to our staff, survive as a business over such a long period and are still able to enter into new partnerships in the form of acquisitions.
Still, it must hurt to see this business closed down for a year now.
Well, it was foreseeable, since the beginning of March last year, [that the business would be restricted]. However, we didn’t reckon it would result in an employment ban over such a long period. But since April 2020 we’ve been saying that we don’t believe in a comeback any sooner than Q2 2021. That’s what we’ve been bracing ourselves for. Now, we have to assume that it’s not going to go back to normal in Q2, but rather in Q3 or Q4.\
We’ve made use of the downtime developing software that will give visitors a high level of safety: algorithms that control the allocation of seats, making sure distances are maintained, we developed Eventim CheckIn, where visitors can enter their details prior to an event or at the gate, we developed technology to support the allocation of vaccination appointments – we’re doing all we can to leave this pandemic behind us as fast as possible.

How do you keep spirits high amongst your staff, as well as shareholders?
It’s not my job to keep shareholders happy, the employees are the most important. The most important factors are transparency, openness and honesty when communicating with our staff, who knew they could rely on us getting through this crisis together.
We do have very understanding shareholders, though. They are aware of the current environment. Share prices usually reflect future expectations, which are quite optimistic.
Both our employees as well as our shareholders know that music and other live experiences mean a lot to people, and that it’ll be worthwhile to stick it out.

Two German live entertainment heavyweights,
Thomas Frey / picture alliance / Getty Images
– Two German live entertainment heavyweights,
Klaus-Peter Schulenberg (left) and Marek Lieberberg, founder of MLK, now trading as eventimpresents, sat next to Roger Lewentz (right), interior minister of the German state Rhineland-Palatinate, at a press conference on the suspension of the Rock am Ring 2016 due to acute thunderstorm warnings.
What will be the immediate steps to facilitate a gradual return to normal business and how long will it take to reach pre-COVID heights?
You see Marc Geiger quoted a lot for predicting a new golden age for live. It’s possible, once this pandemic is over, but I believe it will likely take longer than anticipated.
A younger audience will certainly return to live entertainment quite fast. The older audience will require a bit more time, I’m afraid, as its faith in being able to enjoy a concert in an unburdened manner will take a little longer to return.

Are the artists eager to tour again?
They are, but everybody needs to take the new circumstances into account, the artists, too. They can no longer pass off all the risk to promoters. It’s an important lesson, even if it’s no fun. The risks need to be managed.
Do you feel like this understanding is shared by all involved in this business? Is there a mutual understanding of being in this together?
I think this understanding will be present for a certain period of time. How things will develop once we’ve returned to normal, that’s another story.
Do you think we’ll see open air shows return this summer?
I do, but at reduced capacity. I think indoor shows will return in Q4, also at reduced capacity. It all depends on the vaccination coverage in Germany and Europe, it’s the crucial question in my opinion.
Do you think quick tests are a viable solution?
Yes, in combination with vaccinations, they could pave the way back to more normality.
Who’s your favorite live act of all time?
Bruce Springsteen.
Where did you last see him play live?
In Berlin at Mercedes-Benz Arena, when it still had a different name.
What are you particularly proud of, when looking back at your career?
You know, pride is not something I deal with. I like to get things off the ground and developed, which others may consider impossible. These are the categories I think in. 
What’s the last thing you tackled that was thought of as impossible?
It’s not common knowledge, but we launched a lifestyle series dubbed Kess, where we manufacture and distribute cosmetic products. We have more than 80 million customer profiles across Europe in our database, we know what our customers want and need aside from live entertainment, and it has developed very well over the last year.
Is there something you’d like to say to the professionals working in this business, the fans that fuel it, and the politicians, in whose hands our fate seems to lie?
Addressing the industry, I’d say, the cultural sector, including music and art, has so much to offer to people, which is why we all need to persevere in order to make it possible again. However, we shouldn’t be too euphoric in terms of anticipating a new golden age of live, and instead approach it modestly, which includes managing risks reasonably. We cannot count on everything selling out again straight away, as the many events postponed to 2022 will likely create some saturation in that year, we’ll see.
To the fans, we know that the need for live entertainment is great, and that it’s growing with every day in lockdown. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure fans can visit concerts again in a safe and carefree manner.
To the politicians, culture is not just nice to have. It’s essential for both the social cohesion within our society and connecting individuals. That’s why it is very important that the promises of help from governments amount to more than lip service. They need to be followed by action, otherwise the damage done will be beyond repair.
You said you don’t care much about pride, what then is the feeling you experience when your company is valued at more than $1 billion?
It’s nothing but a book value.
Just a regular day at the office?
Of course, it’s a good feeling, there’s no doubt about that. However, you have to be aware of the fact that it’s just a book value. It doesn’t mean you can now withdraw $1 billion from your account.
What’s your advice to up-and-coming promoters who want to set foot in this business?
Being a promoter is not so much a job, it’s more like a calling. It’s something you live, at least for those promoters I’ve gotten to know. And because it has a lot to do with emotions when everyone’s a music lover, it’s very important to only take on risks you can manage.