It is said the World Cup unofficially kicks off when the Italian collectable company “Panini” releases its sticker album for the quadrennial competition. The 2022 U.S. edition features 670 stickers across 80 pages, representing players from all 32 countries competing in the event.
Panini told 60 Minutes it prints 11 million sticker packets a day in the months leading up to the World Cup. Each packet contains five stickers at a price of $1.20 for the set. The corresponding album features a spread for every team that will take the field in Qatar and includes player photos, a shiny team logo, and stickers celebrating previous World Cup winning teams. To amass the requisite 670 stickers, most collectors resort to trading duplicates. The popularity of the album has generated an entire swapping ecosystem – with online groups and organized meetups entirely devoted to Panini.
The soccer, or football, sticker phenomenon began in 1961 in Modena, when the four Panini brothers began selling collectable stickers of Italian soccer players from their family’s news stand in the north of Italy. Panini’s primary customers were initially children, but the company now estimates that roughly 40% of collectors are adults.
The story has been on the radar of 60 Minutes producer Draggan Mihailovich for years. He teamed up with correspondent Jon Wertheim on the piece.
“The origin of the story is that I was once a Panini World Cup sticker album collector, way back in 1974, when I was 12 years old,” Mihailovich told 60 Minutes Overtime. “We were in Yugoslavia in June of ’74, visiting relatives, and my father went to a newspaper kiosk and saw these black packets of stickers with…a drawing of a soccer player on it. And he took interest, and he bought a few, bought an album, and showed it to us and said, ‘Here, you know, what do you think?’ And we didn’t know what it was, but then we got really into it, as you’re ripping open the packets and you’d see these players that sort of came to life right in your hand. It was like an organic addiction.”
After five weeks in Europe, Mihailovich returned to North Carolina two stickers short of completing the album.
“My dad then notices an address on the back of the album, and he decides to write a letter to Panini,” Mihailovich said. “And sure enough, six weeks later, we get a letter with the two stickers in the envelope. And so we completed our album. And I was hooked at that point.”
The two remaining stickers were supplied by Panini’s missing sticker service. Once staffed by schoolteachers who answered children’s letters, the team has since been modernized to include a staff that operates machinery to sift through the company’s vast sticker archive. Panini told 60 Minutes it guarantees the chance to complete the collection and considers the services a critical ingredient in the success of the Panini formula. For collectors who have been less than successful swapping their duplicates, the missing sticker service sells up to fifty individual stickers for $0.40 each.
Inside the archive, there are stickers of famous and forgotten players all, at one time, printed in the same quantity by Panini. Some collectors have been known to accuse the company of printing fewer stickers of hard-to-find players like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but it is an allegation the Panini denies.
“We print all the stickers in the same quantities,” said Antonia Allegra, Panini’s soccer marketing director. “So there are not rare stickers. But [it] is the market that creates the rare stickers…Maybe you are an Argentina fan. And you find [Lionel] Messi. Okay, the first one is for your collection. The second one is in your wallet…So you don’t use the Messi stickers in the swapping market. So automatically it became a rare sticker.”
Panini says there is no statistical difference in the chance that you might purchase a pack of stickers and find the American Christian Pulisic versus Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, two players who appear in the 2022 World Cup collection.
As for 60 Minutes producer Draggan Mihailovich, 48 years after pasting the likes of German great Franz Beckenbauer and Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, he’s back collecting again and sits 48 stickers from another finished album.
The video above was produced by Keith Zubrow and edited by Joe Schanzer.
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