World Cup Fans Preoccupied With Soccer's Version Of Baseball Cards

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World Cup stickers called Paninis have been traded for five decades around the globe. Every four years, the Italy-based publisher Panini releases World Cup souvenir sticker albums.


OK, soccer's World Cup kicks off in Brazil in just about three week's time, which means added excitement for those who collect World Cup stickers. Millions of fans around the globe collect these stickers, much like baseball cards in the United States, and then fans beg, barter or even steal to fill their official albums before the tournament begins. It takes 640 stickers - one for every player, along with team logos and pictures. This is the kind of global story that requires team coverage. We're not kidding. In a moment, we'll hear NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We begin with NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The Italian Panini Group, which publishes the official album, says it's printing more than 750 million stickers a week. The family-run operation won't disclose sales figures, but Ricardo Escandon, who trades and sells hard-to-find stickers from his tiny stall at a popular market near Mexico City's airport says he's cashing in big time.

(Spanish spoken.)

KAHN: Escandon, who everyone calls Richard, sells the packets of five stickers for six pesos. But he makes his money in the popular cards, like Argentina's star foward, Lionel Messi, or Mexico's striker Chricharito, Javier Hernandez, which go from up to 20 pesos a piece.

It's not just neighborhood kids at Richard's stand, 41-year-old Geraldo Monroy says he does this every four years.

(Spanish spoken.)

KAHN: Ever since the 1982 World Cup, Monroy says it's too early to start buying hard to find cards, there's still time to swap and trade. Richard gives him one for every two he turns in.

Fifteen-year-old Gonzalo Mendoza isn't waiting, he wants to fill his album up right away. He uses a mobile app to keep track of the cards he needs.

(Spanish spoken.)

KAHN: He works for his mom at her juice stand at the market. She pays him 20 pesos a day. He says some days he spends 120 pesos - about $9 at Richard's stand. With just a little more than two weeks before the opening game, the sticker craze in Latin America is in full swing but nowhere more evident than in Brazil, host of this year's World Cup.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: This is Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and I'm at one of the mega malls in the city. And here in the basement there are about 30 to 40 people, it's around 6 p.m., so it's after the work and school day. And young people, old people are huddled around in groups exchanging cards trying to find the ones that they need to fill their sticker books. It's kind of like a swap meet for this very particular World Cup tradition.

(Portuguese spoken.)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty-six-year-old systems analyst, Ricardo Guize comes here once a week and he's sitting on the floor with two other people sifting through cards. Each sticker is numbered, which makes it easy, he says, to know which ones you need.

(Portuguese spoken.)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For me, this reminds me of my childhood, he says. I used to do this with my parents. It's also a great way of meeting people, he says.

(Portuguese spoken.)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty-four-year-old chef Eliza Canet is trying to finish up four of the sticker books. She tells me with Brazil hosting the games and the possibility that the Brazilian selection may win, it will be a great memento and possibly valuable. She's hoping to sell one of her completed books for a healthy profit.

And it's not just the people here who are desperately scrambling to fill their sticker books, there is something of an international trade going on. I have a request from Carrie Kahn in Mexico.

(Portuguese spoken.)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And indeed, Eliza says after looking through her stack, that she has a few that Carrie is actually needing, so they are in the mail.

KAHN: Cool, thanks Lourdes, my sticker crazy family - OK, mostly my husband - is going to be thrilled. In Mexico City, I'm NPR's Carrie Kahn.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this is Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News in Sao Paulo, Brazil.


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