With the World Cup now at the knockout stage, thousands of children across Europe are racing to finish their Brazil 2014 sticker books. But they, and their parents, are unlikely to realise that, because of the relationship between Panini, the only manufacturer permitted to produce FIFA's official Brazil books, and football governing bodies across Europe, it can cost almost €565 to collect every sticker, according to rival sticker manufacturer, Topps Europe Ltd.
Mathematicians at the University of Geneva have calculated that, based on the number of stickers required to fill Panini's Brazil 2014 sticker book, collectors who do not swap stickers will need to buy 989 packets of five stickers. At 60 cents per packet, the price adds up.
Panini has produced the official stickers for all but one World Cup since 1970. Three years ago, Topps Europe Ltd complained to the European Commission. It alleged that Panini, along with a number of key national football associations, football players unions and international governing bodies (including FIFA) had breached Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Panini denies this.
In its complaint, Topps argued that the licensing model used by FIFA was neither transparent nor objective, and discriminates in favour of Panini, infringing Articles 101 and 102. The Treaty states that a dominant undertaking "has a special responsibility not to allow its conduct to impair genuine undistorted competition".
"The governing bodies have eliminated effective competition to the detriment of consumers denying them choice, innovation, pricing and competition", says Michael Eisner, who owns Topps. "Children deserve better from Brussels. And it's not just children. One man from Scotland is reported to have spent €1885 or £1500 completing his book. That is just ridiculous."
Football sticker collections require the manufacturer to buy the intellectual property rights of the tournament organiser's logo, the tournament logo, national team logos and kits, and even image rights for individual players.
National associations are reluctant to license their rights to a company without FIFA rights, yet FIFA says that a company must have national association rights in order to be considered for their own.
Unless the European Commission takes action to ensure a level playing field for competition, children across the EU are likely to have to pay even more for football stickers in the future. The key message to parents, in the meantime, is to understand the true cost of the adventure and encourage your child to swap cards with friends.
Key Facts about World Cup Stickers
-For the World Cups between 1970 and 2014: the number of stickers has increased from 271 to 640.
-Between 1998 and 2014 the price per individual sticker has doubled, from 6 to 13 cents. Packs contain 5 stickers.
-In comparison, packs of 7 stickers for Topps Official England World Cup Collection cost just 31 cents each, and only 225 are required to complete the collection.
-Topps Official England world cup stickers take 267.6 packets on average to complete the collection with a spend of £66.75 or €83.90