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Deutsche Courage: The rise and rise of CTS Eventim

As Eventim celebrates 30 years, its CEO, execs and partners tell IQ about the journey to the top, as well as what the future holds for the European live powerhouse

By Jon Chapple on 14 Jun 2019

Klaus-Peter Schulenberg at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London

Klaus-Peter Schulenberg at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London


image © Muir Vidler

From humble beginnings at the dawn of the Internet age, Klaus-Peter Schulenberg and team have grown CTS Eventim into a €4 billion live events powerhouse.

As the German company celebrates its 30th birthday, Eventim execs and partners describe the journey to the top, as well as what the future holds for Europe’s leading live music company, writes Jon Chapple…

 


If any one company can be said to have shaped the direction of the global concert industry over the past three decades, there’s a good argument to be made for CTS Eventim.

In the early 2000s, as Live Nation ancestors SFX Entertainment and then Clear Channel Entertainment gobbled up independent promoters across North America, a similar revolution was underway across the Atlantic, with CTS Eventim – under the stewardship of CEO Klaus-Peter Schulenberg – quietly building a live entertainment powerhouse from its base in Bremen, Germany.

As the first company in Europe to sell tickets online – and, perhaps most significantly, the first in the world to run a ticketing operation alongside a concert promotion division – Eventim under Schulenberg set the template for the modern, vertically integrated concert business prevalent in the 21st century.

Now, as the company enters the next stage of its evolution with pan- European promoter network Eventim Live, IQ examines the CTS story so far – and discovers what comes next…

Computer says yes
While many sources credit Schulenberg as CTS Eventim’s founder, the roots of the business lie in Computer Ticket Service (CTS), founded in 1989 by concert promoter Marcel Avram.

Avram, now president of European Concert Agency, was soon joined at the fledgling CTS by Matthias Hoffmann, of Mannheim’s Hoffmann Konzerte, and later by a third partner, Marek Lieberberg (with whom Avram had co-founded Mama Concerts in 1969).

“We, as promoters, can learn a lot from him. He started the same way as us, but he was cleverer”

Speaking to IQ, Avram says he has “huge respect for what Klaus has, over the years, made out of a small idea I had in the 90s when I created CTS.” The three partners, he explains, were unable to devote the time necessary to develop CTS – the 1990s saw Avram promoting world tours by the likes of Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart and Eros Ramazzotti – and Avram describes the company’s subsequent growth as CTS Eventim as a “huge achievement” by Schulenberg.

“I couldn’t have done it better,” he continues, “not just because of the time, but also because of Schulenberg’s know-how. He did a great job and I admire him for it.”

As CEO of CTS Eventim, Schulenberg, 67, now presides over a vertically integrated, publicly traded live entertainment powerhouse worth over €4bn by market capitalisation, and which turned over more than €1.2bn in 2018. But it all started – as these stories often do – with a “mediocre” high-school band…

Net result
The first indication that Klaus-Peter Schulenberg’s future lay in the music industry came as a 15-year-old student, when he assumed the role of booking agent for his band. “I made sure that our band had enough shows,” he remembers. “The other groups at school would come to me and say, ‘You’re so mediocre but you always have lots of gigs… can you do the same for us?’”

Schulenberg became an artist manager in 1971, discovering teen idol Bernd Clüver while studying economics at the University of Bremen. “He had a wonderful voice – very soft – and was very good looking,” recalls Schulenberg. “All the girls liked him.”

“The other groups at school would come to me and say, ‘You’re so mediocre, but you always have lots of gigs… can you do the same for us?’”

At the time, Schulenberg was 19 – then legally a minor – so his father signed the young singer on his behalf. Clüver’s hit ‘Der Junge mit der Mundharmonika’ (‘The Boy with the Harmonica’) sold more than two million copies, and the proceeds allowed Schulenberg to give up on his studies and reinvest them (“in a solid Hanseatic manner,” notes a 2003 Handelsblatt profile) in his own music company, KPS Concertbüro.

Somewhat unbelievably, KPS’s first concert wasn’t with a Bremen, or even a German, act – rather, the company’s maiden event was a 10,000-person show with bona fide rock’n’roll megastars the Rolling Stones, in partnership with Fritz Rau (the “Rau” in Lippmann + Rau). “That was the starting point for working together for the next 20 years,” says Schulenberg.

From concerts came touring exhibitions, radio stations and newspapers, including the popular Bremen free-sheet Weser Report, and by the early 1990s Schulenberg was looking seriously into the possibilities of a newfangled technology that would change dramatically the direction of his career: the internet.

“In those days, I went to interactive media conventions in the US, and by the 1990s I’d got to know the internet,” he recalls. “At that time, you had to buy tickets in an outlet store or on a busy phone line, which was not an enjoyable shopping experience. I saw the opportunity the internet presented for ticket sales – for consumers and also for the ticket agent, who could earn a service charge.”

“I saw the opportunity the internet presented for ticket sales – for both consumers and the ticket agent”

By 1996, and the dawn of the digital age, Schulenberg had his sights set on buying a ticketing company. “I could see that CTS wasn’t successful, and in 1996 I made them an offer and Marcel, Marek and Matthias finally accepted.”

Just the ticket
André Béchir, founder and CEO of Switzerland’s abc Production, echoes the sentiments of many Eventim executives and partners when he describes Schulenberg as a “visionary” – someone who, at an early stage, saw the potential both of selling tickets online and of bringing together ticketing with live entertainment (concerts, festivals, other live shows and venues) under one corporate umbrella.

“I first met him years ago, when we were both working as promoters,” says Béchir, who is full of praise both for Schulenberg’s personal character and his professional foresight. “He’s much cleverer than I am,” he says. “He concentrated on [digital] ticketing, as he saw that this was the platform of the future, and then he built up an extremely good infrastructure around it.”

“He’s a visionary,” Béchir continues. “We, as promoters, can learn a lot from him – because he started the same way as us, but he was cleverer.”

Cleverer, maybe – but digital ticketing was far from an overnight success, according to Schulenberg, who remembers an early on-sale when CTS spent two million Deutschmarks on marketing, but sold just 100 tickets.

 


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 83, or subscribe to the magazine here