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An expensive World Cup looms for Britain’s thousands of sticker-collecting football fans, Dr David Webber warns, as the cost of a packet of Panini stickers was unveiled yesterday.

1st September 2022
Sport and fitnessHomepage - News - Standard

An expensive World Cup looms for Britain’s thousands of sticker-collecting football fans, Dr David Webber warns, as the cost of a packet of Panini stickers was unveiled yesterday at 90 pence.

With the official sticker album of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup finals now on sale, collectors are expected to spend nearly £900 on completing their sets, ahead of the tournament that kicks off in less than three months time.

For Dr David Webber, a Senior Research Fellow who teaches on Solent University’s BSc Football Studies degree and researches the political economy of football, this extraordinary price rise tells us a great deal about the commercialisation of football that has taken place over the last thirty years.

“When I was a kid back in the 1980s” Dr Webber recalls, “a pack of Panini stickers cost just 20 pence. You could quite reasonably buy a packet – or two if you were feeling flush – every couple of days, and it was a fun and relatively inexpensive hobby. Swaps and ‘shinies’ would be traded, and new friendships formed. For a little over the cost of one packet of five stickers today, you could back then buy five packets.”

“Panini will say that producing these stickers is an expensive business. There are the physical costs, of course, but the company will have to pay a royalty fee to FIFA to produce the ‘official’ sticker collection for the tournament. Panini then must negotiate with the 32 national football associations who will be represented in Qatar, to use their players, acquire their image rights, images of their kits and the national team badge, and so on.”

But for Dr Webber, this latest price rise is just part of the wider exploitation of supporters that has taken place over the last three decades.

“We often talk about the rising cost of football – and no doubt, this is a conversation that will only intensify in the current economic climate and cost-of-living crisis.

“Even if we look past the controversial awarding of the World Cup to Qatar, for several decades now, football’s governing bodies, sponsors and other businesses have exploited and commoditised the passion that millions of supporters around the world have for the game. Despite FIFA and its national associations claiming to run football ‘for the good of the game’, increasingly profit is being prioritised over people, and ordinary fans are being priced out of even the simple pleasure of collecting and swapping stickers.

“Sure, it might be argued that supporters don’t have to collect stickers. They don’t have to go to games or buy replica kits. And does any of this really matter when households will this winter be struggling to heat their homes and put food on their tables?”

Yet, Dr Webber argues, it is precisely these conditions of wider market failure, of fuel and food poverty, that should prompt football’s governing bodies to rethink its own broken business model.

“Amidst a cost-of-living crisis this winter and beyond, many supporters won’t have the choice whether to collect stickers, buy a kit, or even watch matches. They simply won’t be able to afford to enjoy football in the way previous generations have been able to.

And that, Dr Webber suggests, is a problem for both football and society. The playground pursuit of collecting stickers is just one of the many rituals and traditions that younger supporters have enjoyed over many years. One of the ways that social bonds and friendships have been formed. Without it, football loses something of its everyday appeal, its solidaristic ties, and collective significance.

Once it loses this, it ceases to become ‘the people’s game’.