Soccer cards have seen a boom in recent years, but it’s stickers that have had a timeless appeal and continue to captivate collectors across the globe.
Among the most popular of the sticker sets Panini produces is the World Cup edition released every four years.
The long-awaited 2022 FIFA World Cup album and stickers was released in late summer in the United States. For the first time ever, the U.S. edition includes limited edition parallels — much like what you see with trading cards — in packs. Each pack contains five stickers. Each box has 50 packs.
The 80-page album features a checklist of 670 stickers — 50 of them silver foil — that can be purchased at retail locations such as Walgreens and Walmart. The stickers feature national team logos and 18 players from each of the 32 nations, including the United States, that have qualified for the finals.
“The Panini World Cup sticker album has had a tried and tested formula ever since its Mexico ’70 debut. The Qatar 2022 album carries on the traditions with a few tweaks here and there,” said Greg Lansdowne, author of several books, including “Stuck on You: The Rise & Fall… & Rise of Panini Stickers.” “Perhaps for established sticker album collectors there is a bit too much information on the front of the sticker and I know there has also been some discontent about the players’ club not being listed.”
A box of 50 packets sells for as little as $60 and upwards of $90, meaning it could cost hundreds of dollars to complete the album. Gold edition stickers (approximately four in every online-exclusive packet) were only available on Panini America’s website, which sold out the day they were released on Aug. 24, and are different from the usual white-border stickers.
Parallels come in blue (1:2 packs on average), red (1:26 packs), purple (1:205 packs) and green (1:1,445 packs). Stickers with black borders are 1/1. Since Panini does not disclose how many base stickers it prints, it is hard to know how rare they are. None of the parallels are numbered, making it impossible to know how many of those are in existence.
“I would also say this collection feels very much like a halfway house between the World Cup albums of the past and what we can expect when the USA co-hosts [with Canada and Mexico] the 2026 tournament,” Lansdown said. “I think the design of these stickers will probably appeal more to those looking for specific players that they can put in a sleeve/slab rather than those looking to stick them in an album.”
The secondary market for the parallels, particularly of established stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, has been very good over the past few months. Messi “blue” stickers, for example, are selling for upwards of $50 on the secondary market.
Panini begins putting together each World Cup squad for their sticker album months before they are officially announced, which means surprise call-ups don’t make the final checklist. The opposite also takes place when a star player isn’t called up because a manager decides not to or because of injury.
WORLD CUP THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Panini, based in the Italian city of Modena, first introduced a World Cup sticker album ahead of the 1970 tournament. Panini had been putting out Series A sticker albums starting in 1961 when Benito and Giuseppe Panini were operating a newspaper distribution office when they found a collection of stickers (attached with glue at the time) that a Milan company had been unable to sell.
The brothers purchased the collection in 1960 and decided to sell them in packets. They ended up selling three million that year. As a result, they founded Panini and went on to sell 15 million packs.
The 1970 World Cup sticker album used multilingual captions and featured a global distribution outside Italy for the first time. The World Cup version of the stickers became an instant hit. The 1970 World Cup gave Panini the possibility to go global.
“The Panini brothers did not invent stickers, but had the brilliant idea of selling them in packets to introduce the element of surprise,” said Antonio Allegra, who works as Panini’s marketing director in Italy. “You open the packets, discover the missing sticker and it gives you a feeling like no other.”
Those first-edition albums are rare. In March 2017, a 1970 album — featuring all 271 stickers — sold at auction for $5,800. The album was signed by Pele — on the cover and inside — and sold by the online auction site Catawiki. For Pele, it marked the final time he would play at a World Cup.
“The value of old Panini albums increases every two years during the European Cup and World Cup,” Panini expert Wouter Waaijers told London’s Daily Mirror following the auction. “This is not only the case for old albums but also for European and World Cups from more recent years. In America, sport trading cards have been generating money for some time now, but the trend is now also visible in Europe. Therefore, it makes sense to look after complete Panini albums well as the chance is high that you can sell them for a lot of money a couple of years later.”
STICKY SITUATION FOR COLLECTORS
In what may be a first in Panini World Cup history, many of the stickers may not actually end up in albums. Instead, U.S. collectors will be getting them graded and reselling them on the secondary market hoping to cash in once the World Cup kicks off.
“Collecting stickers — largely all of the same value — to stick in an album isn’t really something most U.S. collectors enjoy doing,” Lansdown said. “For them, it is about finding the chase cards, or stickers in this case. There is still a base set to stick in the album though, so this just gives an extra spice to the collection. With so many other sets out there, especially cards, Panini needed to put something like these parallels in to give it an extra impetus. I think they have succeeded.”
The parallels are appealing to collectors as are the stickers labeled “Extra” that can be found in the UK edition. These special unnumbered “Legend” versions, labeled “extra sticker” on both the front and back, took some collectors by surprise.
The “Extra Stickers” can be found in packs, a subset that includes legends and rookies printed in four different color variants. The legends include Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe. The rookies include Canada’s Alphonso Davies and Spain’s Ansu Fati.
Enzo Patriarca, co-host of the “Soccer Cards United” podcast, said on a recent show that a year from now will be a real gauge of whether all the parallels and extra stickers carry any worth.
Patriarca rhetorically asked, “How many 2022 World Cup stickers are in the PSA registry?”
“That would be good to know,” co-host and Jason Flynn replied.
It may be easier to collect individual stickers. If you take into account that each pack contains five stickers, it will take 967 of them to fill an album. As a result, it could cost upwards of $1,200 to complete the album.
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