Pazzi Per Panini! The Soccer Sticker Craze That Has Everyone Going Mad

By Salvatore Bono

Fans have lined-up for blocks to get them, some have made a fortune selling rare ones online or at trade shows and, in some instances, they have even led to grown men killing each other.

The global phenomenon known as Panini collecting has captivated soccer audiences for decades. Manufactured at the Panini plant in the Italian city of Modena, the stickers are crafted for 21 hours a day, six days a week by machines called “Fifimatics” which put the stickers of your favorite soccer players inside a small package of five to be shipped around the world for collectors young and old to enjoy.

The Panini stickers go inside an official sticker book that is released by the same company. Each sticker is numbered; search for the number in the book and you have found where the sticker needs to be placed. The stickers feature players, squads, stadiums and logos. During international tournaments like the World Cup and Euros, the Panini stickers become a global game.

The idea is to collect every sticker released and fill up that book. The stickers cost anywhere between $1-$2 per pack, each pack contains five cards. Boxes containing over 100 stickers are about $50 and the books are free.  You can buy the whole set for $100 but why would you do that?

The joy is going on a worldwide scavenger hunt to fill that book.

Bread and Butter

Making these stickers is serious business for Panini. The Northern Italian company generates a billion dollars from their soccer stickers. They also make stickers for the NHL, NBA, and Olympics – but nothing comes close to the craze surrounding the soccer stickers.

According to the “Professor Ehrhard Behrends from Berlin’s Free University estimated that collectors would have to buy an average of 961 sticker packets each to fill their albums, amounting to 4,805 stickers in all.”

A serious collector pays about $800 to fill up that book and find each piece.

It is the baseball card collecting you did as a kid but on steroids. Thanks to soccer being a global sport, the stickers are shipped around the world. When it comes to certain players, it might be easier for a fan to meet that player in person than to find their sticker card.  

The stickers are worth so much money together and on their own that in the weeks leading up to World Cup 2014 in Brazil, a man robbed a Rio store and didn’t take money. Instead, he took 300,000 Panini stickers.

The Knight of Columbus

The company’s logo is a knight next to the words “PANINI” in a flaming Ferrari red against a yellow background. The colors are a tribute to the other billion dollar company from Modena, Italy – Ferrari. It’s no coincidence then that Panini uses the same colors, font and scheme as the car maker.

Giuseppe Panini founded the company in the early 60s. It started off as a stamp making company and eventually began making stickers of soccer players by the end of the decade.

Mr. Panini also loved puzzles and even created his own crossword puzzle called “The Knight,” which would become part of the logo. He passed away at 71 in 1996 but his legacy continues to grow – you can call him the Richard McDonald of the collecting world and this Big Mac is a fat stack of stickers inside a book.

By the 1980s, Panini was all over the world. British school kids went mad for them, as did grown men in the Brazilian favelas. Fans in France couldn’t get enough, and like that, the small Italian company became a global entity. After the 90s and the passing of Panini himself, the hype seemed to die down. By the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the buzz was back. Fans went crazy for the stickers again – as they did for the vuvuzela. In a way the first World Cup on African soil opened Panini to a whole new audience. The company shipped to nations in Africa and unlocked new demand.

During the 2014 World Cup, Panini outsold Topps – a stickers competitor – 9 to 1 according to the Telegraph and social media helped spread the world. In 2016 with the Euros and Copa America, Panini was collected on all continents more than ever before.

To see what the stickers of yesteryear are worth just look for them on Ebay, Amazon or other collector sites. You’ll likely find them next to a listing of Star Wars toys of your youth. Hopefully your mother didn’t throw out your Panini stickers like mine did along my G.I. Joe action figures – Ma, I could have paid for college with those damn toys!

I digress.

Vintage shops, collector expos and online is the way to go if you would like to buy, sell or trade.

Even the players themselves are in on the craze.

Following a brutal 2014 World Cup, Italy’s Danielle De Rossi allegedly called out Mario Balotelli in an exit interview as the Azzurri left Brazil saying: “We need real men, not Panini stickers or characters. These are of no use to the Nazionale.” De Rossi denies that it was directed at the former A.C. Milan striker, who days prior posted an Instagram image of his face on a sheet of Panini’s covering the Italian team.

Oh, Mario.  

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