Over the years it has been without controversy that more Americans played soccer than actually followed the sport on its international stage. The AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) boasts 50,000 teams and over 500,000 players. Of course, on the international stage the sport is known as “football.”
Different attempts at sparking interest in the sport have come and gone, but none were ever wildly successful. It seemed that in a land with multiple 24 hour sports channels on television, radio and internet, that world soccer was simply relegated to the heap of second tier sport (or maybe third) in the minds of most American sports fans.
At least until now.
If any part of “football” gained notice in the USA it has usually been the every four years extravaganza known as the FIFA World Cup. A little national fever, combined with a time in the calendar where there is room for another sporting event in the national consciousness and TV schedule, and the World Cup has had some notice. However, this year the 2014 FIFA World Cup has found a partner who has raised awareness and excitement regarding international football to a new level.
Panini printed more than one billion, most of which will be sold before the summer is over.
The 2014 Panini FIFA World Cup Official Licensed Sticker Collection has well over 600 stickers. In addition to the basic stickers of participants, there are 32 foil stickers and 16 holo foil stickers, and the collection is meant to be housed in a 72-page full-color album.
Even though it is still a month away from the beginning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, people worldwide are buying, swapping and trading the glossy stickers printed by Panini in Italy. This same company has been supplying the colorful sticker albums related to the World Cup ever since the 1970 tournament in Mexico. No doubt a good portion of the fervor over the sticker collection is created by the fact that many of the ten-year olds from that first collection or three are now in their 40s and 50s. The nostalgia runs deep, and there is often a desire to share these simple collections with their children, the next generation of football fanatics.
Recently, the fervor over the stickers and albums have reached such a level that thieves stole a truck carrying 300,000 of the stickers, a story which received international media attention. The main distributor of Panini World Cup stickers anticipated sales in south Florida alone would top 12 million stickers, according to this story in the Miami Herald, which also reported weekend trade days are held where kids and adults can swap stickers.
Rich Klein spoke with a Dallas area shop owner while doing some research on 2014 Bowman and found that the soccer stickers were red hot, bringing in customers who hadn't been there for, well, four years.
Fox News reported that World Cup sticker mania has swept the country.
Other news outlets are carrying stories that say the stickers are such a huge hit they've caused some issues in schools. The London Daily Mail reported one school was considering a ban on stickers because of the distraction they were causing--even some minor fisticuffs--but was hoping an organized club might work better.
The international news agency reported that a school teacher in Colombia accused of pilfering stickers from pupils to complete his Panini album. A 13-year-old pupil in the central city of Bucaramanga reported the teacher had confiscated the stickers from students and was then seen in the staff-room pasting those stickers in his own Panini album.
It is likely that a story like that acts as sales-generating publicity for Panini’s product, but the Italian company has been doing plenty of traditional hyping of the items on their own. The sales promotion for the album and stickers was written with the same exuberance that the fans of the World Cup use in cheering on their nation’s teams.
Even complete sticker sets with albums from the 1970s sell for as much as high grade baseball card sets from the same era.
Sales figures are eye-popping. According to Reuters, newsstands in Brazil sold 220 million packs of stickers four years ago, often running out of them.
It's a scenario the baseball card industry can only dream of: a history-laden product with hungry customers, trading sessions and massive sales with little discussion of any element of it 'dying'.
You do not need to be either to appreciate the Panini Sticker Album’s intention to be both a sports collectible and a record of the world event. It is an affordable collectible with the USA products selling for a suggested retail price of $1 for sticker packs and $2 for the color albums. With a layout and design to take into account all the colors, nations and star players associated with the World Cup, the completed album actually serves a both a collectible and a record of the worldwide event.
Inside the colorful cover of the album there is a place on the inside cover for the special Panini sticker, the FIFA Fair Play sticker, a two-part Emblem and a two-part Mascot sticker. The facing pages shows the previous World Cup winners, and it holds the place for the World Cup Trophy sticker (a very bright and shiny sticker). The following two-page spread in the album has spaces for each of the stadia to be used in the 2014 tournament, with each of these spaces completed by a two-part sticker. Then the album jumps into the team and player pages. Brazil (the 2014 host country) starts things off, with their shiny badge sticker, team photo and five player football stickers on the left hand page. Also included for each national team is a brief list of facts and figures in multiple languages and space to record the scores of the group stage. As mentioned earlier, this album is intended to be a record of the 2014 World Cup event.
It is, however, also a sports collectible, and this fact is revealed easily by the player stickers. The footballer stickers include details such as date of birth, height, weight and home club.
Interspersed throughout the sticker album are colorful spreads showing the host cities, tournament posters and action shots from the qualifying rounds. The keepsake is rounded out with a couple of pages of FIFA advertising, and the final page details various World Cup records.
As one can see, this sticker album is intended to reach beyond the hard core sports collector. It is meant to be more than a youth-oriented pastime. Although Panini doesn't disclose sales projections, the executives of the group have gone on record to say that this year’s sticker album collection will set records.
The printing company has a presence in the nation ready to host the games. The Panini factory in an industrial suburb north of Sao Paulo is working around the clock, as it cuts, packs and ships out over 8 million five-sticker envelopes a day, 70% of which will be sold in Brazil
It makes sense. Over the past four decades the FIFA World Cup Sticker Collection has risen to the status of a low-tech cult phenomenon in a day of social media and electronic connections (although we should point out that there does exist an official App for the Panini Online Sticker Album). It is most certainly a multimillion-dollar business for the Panini Group. And whether it is through stories of truckloads being heisted or a teacher bullying students for stickers it is a phenomenon that is not likely to cool off before the matches begin on June 12.