In the monthly "TTBL Head of the Month" column, the German Table Tennis League (TTBL) regularly presents interesting people from the table tennis world. This month, it is Carsten Zulauf, Sports Director of TTV Stadtallendorf, who organizes the sporting event "Stadtallendorf meets Bundesliga" together with his club colleagues and many volunteers.
Many years ago he was Timo Boll's training buddy and doubles partner, and on the first weekend of Advent Carsten Zulauf will be the host for Germany's table tennis idol: For Borussia Düsseldorf's TTBL "home match" on Sunday against TTC RhönSprudel Fulda-Maberzell, which has been awarded to TTV Stadtallendorf, the host's sports director has been pulling all the strings together for months.
"If everything goes perfectly, which it looks like it will so far," said Zulauf shortly before the start of the set-up in Stadtallendorf's Bärenbachhalle, which has been underway since Wednesday, when asked, "then everyone will benefit from this day: the two teams, the table tennis, the spectators and fans and, last but not least, us as a club. It's a multiple win-win situation."
The 45-year-old's assessment is more than just confident local patriotism. Over the years, Stadtallendorf and its 150 or so TTV members have built up a good reputation as an organizer of table tennis events of supra-regional importance: In addition to Düsseldorf's first appearance in the Central Hesse region eight years ago in a Bundesliga duel with TTC Zugbrücke Grenzau and the German National Championships in 1986 and 2005, Zulauf says that the TTV chronicle includes more than 30 other major competitions.
"We probably have an organizer gene in our club," says Zulauf about the high level of commitment in his club: "The second generation is already organizing larger events here. But that also means we know exactly what to look out for."
All preparations for Düsseldorf's match against Fulda-Maberzell also followed a sophisticated plan - and an overarching goal: "We always want it to be a table tennis event for table tennis fans," says Zulauf.
For "Stadtallendorf meets Bundesliga", for which a special video trailer has been produced, over 300 clubs from the region have been contacted individually since early last summer and motivated to attend the sporting event. As a reward, the hall, which has been expanded from 250 to a good 1,100 spectators, will be "80 to 85 percent sold out with a professional audience" (Zulauf).
Zulauf is particularly ambivalent about the arena: "On the one hand, it's a disadvantage for us that we have to spend a certain amount of money to spruce up a small hall for such an event. On the other hand, for an organizer with a large hall that is practically ready to play, there would be much more competition from other events at the same location. You can't experience top sport at the level of Timo Boll every two weeks here."
Zulauf and his colleagues Rolf-Werner Schmittdiel, Walter Zirkler and Harald Dörr left no stone unturned to ensure the success of the event. "As a result, we also created added value for the audience, such as a greeting from passionate table tennis player Frank Elstner or the auction of a soccer shirt signed by world champion Lothar Matthäus," says Zulauf.
Of course, refinancing the total organizational costs in the mid-five-figure range was an important goal for the organizers on site: "But more important to us than any financial gain," Zulauf clarifies, "is that people are interested in table tennis and that the cohesion in our club is strengthened."
When planning the reunion with Düsseldorf star Timo Boll, with whom Zulauf completed many a training course with Hessian coaching icon Helmut Hampl in his youth and also collected Hessian doubles titles, Stadtallendorf's sports director worked closely with the actual "host". "Carsten is an absolute professional, he could start with us immediately - always friendly, obliging, well organized, well connected and a great team player. Table tennis could do with more people of his calibre," says Borussia's experienced manager Andreas Preuß approvingly.
Zulauf has been in contact with Preuß for many years - as with many others in the table tennis community. Not least because of his excellent connections in the scene, the board member of a financial services company has also been acting as a player agent on the side for some time now. Although commissions are also paid, Zulauf has emphatically stated that monetary interest only plays an absolutely secondary role in this context: "I make it clear to all the players I work with that the most important thing for everyone is that clubs and players find each other who belong together and are a good fit."