World Cup sticker-mania sweeps the globe

As football’s biggest tournament draws near, millions of collectors are busy trying to complete their Panini sticker albums. Are they wasting their time and money or is it educational fun?

Every four years a worldwide obsession returns. It has been known to take over the minds of grown adults and reduce them to petulant children.

It is not the World Cup, but the release of a new Panini World Cup sticker album. For every World Cup since Mexico 1970, the Italian company has produced an album in which fans try to collect stickers of all 640 players taking part in the tournament from each of its 32 competing countries. Millions of children and adults delight in gathering these small headshots of players, with details of their names, nationalities, and positions.

The frenzy has produced some ugly scenes. In Brazil, thieves stole a truck containing 300,000 stickers, leading many fans to worry that the supply might run out. In Colombia, a teacher who confiscated stickers from his pupils was later caught adding them to his own collection. There have even been reports of middle-aged bankers walking into newsagents and buying the entire sticker stock in one go.

They do not come cheap. Each packet contains five random stickers. When a collector first starts, there is a 640/640 chance that a packet contains a sticker they want. But as their collection grows, the chance of getting a duplicate card rises. To complete the set, a collector would have to buy, on average, 899 packs, which would total 4,505 stickers at a cost of £413.24.

Of course, in practice, very few do this and part of the enjoyment is swapping with other collectors. From the UK’s school playgrounds to huge street markets in Mexico to the internet, fanatics try to swap away their duplicates with cries of, ‘got, got, need!’, which is now a popular hashtag on Twitter.

According to economists, collecting the stickers gives youngsters an invaluable and engaging maths lesson. They must work out how to gather all the stickers while calculating costs and exploring key concepts like probability and supply and demand.

Yet few fully grown collectors can use the maths excuse. So is it just a useless waste of time?

Stuck in the past

Some people cannot see the point of collecting stickers, particularly for adults. They are a simply waste of money and a distraction from far more important things in life. They really need to grow up.

Yet others reply that collecting stickers is a way of getting involved with the World Cup and learning who the players are. Many adult collectors say the smell of the stickers and the process of collection evokes their youth and a nostalgia for a person they no longer are. Psychologists also note the human need to classify and make sense of a difficult world, and this is what collecting stickers allows people to do. It may be pointless, but that is part of its appeal.

You Decide

  1. Is there any value in collecting something like stickers?
  2. ‘Everyone has a hobby, almost all of which are pointless. We should not judge.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. If a person buys ten packs of cards a day, on average, how long would it take them to complete the book and collect one of each of the 640 stickers?
  2. Read the link on the psychological explanations for collecting in ‘Become an Expert’. List the reasons and explain what type of collector each one might apply to.

Some People Say...

“Collecting things is a way of trying to impose order on a world which is beyond our understanding.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t collect anything, so why should I care?
Wanting to complete things is a common human trait. Perhaps you have a favourite musician and want all of their albums, or you want to see all the films by a certain director or those which feature a particular actor. Lots of elements in our behaviour are in some way comparable to collecting stickers.
What lengths do people go to to get hold of these stickers?
Recently a completed book of stickers from the 1970 World Cup was sold on eBay for over £1,800. In another example, Adam Carroll-Smith wrote a book about his efforts to finish his Premier League sticker album from 1996, 17 years afters the season finished. He needed six stickers, but, unable to find them, he tracked down the six players and took photos of them himself.

Word Watch

Colombia
The South American nation is fanatical about the Panini stickers and there are over a million albums in the country. Fake cards are a rising problem.
£413.24
The Panini website allows collectors to buy their final 50 stickers directly, which reduces the overall cost. However, many collectors regard this as cheating.
Demand
Two economists have worked out that a group of ten people, working together by swapping and taking advantage of the opportunity to buy their final 50 missing stickers online from Panini, would need only 1,435 packs between them to complete all ten albums.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.