Brazil World Cup Collectors Angry at Sponsor Inclusion

The routine has been the same for five decades. Soccer fans worldwide rip open packs of stickers bearing the faces of those who will play in the World Cup.

This year, things are different -- and collectors aren’t happy.

For the first time, among packs containing images of stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, fans in certain areas also will find stickers bearing the logos of World Cup sponsors. In Brazil, where a collection frenzy takes place every World Cup year, irate fans have been told they can exchange unwanted sponsor stickers.

“It’s absurd because you pay for stickers that are World Cup souvenirs, not to remember World Cup advertising,” 28-year-old Bernardo Brasil said outside the entrance of a Rio de Janeiro mall, where scores of people show up every day to swap stickers. “It’s a mistake. They could have added stickers of something more in tone with the World Cup, like coaches, instead of advertising that only benefits them.”

Modena, Italy-based Panini Group has been selling a sticker album for every World Cup since the 1970 edition in Mexico. In Brazil, a pack of five stickers costs 1 real ($0.45). A total of 649 stickers, known as figurines in Latin America, are needed to complete the collection. Some unofficial vendors have set up street-side desks to sell individual stickers that cost as much as 4 reais each.

Revenue Source

Panini will complete a two-tournament agreement with soccer’s governing body FIFA after the World Cup, which kicks off next month.

In an e-mail to collectors, Panini said assigning cards to the World Cup’s global sponsors allowed the free distribution of more than 6 million albums worldwide.

Companies including Coca-Cola Co. and Adidas AG are the second-biggest funding source for FIFA. They paid $404 million to be associated with the World Cup last year, according to the Zurich-based soccer body’s latest financial report.

Brasil said he was frustrated at having to pay for stickers that help Panini profit from advertising. Panini said including such stickers was justified because the “album will not be complete without one of 649 figurines.”

“However, if one feels that the stickers of institutional sponsors are not part of the album and feels wronged, Panini will provide a free replacement,” it said.

Stadium Delays

FIFA said its commercial partners have been offered an opportunity to “create a link with the Panini collectors and add to the excitement in a limited number of areas such as Brazil.”

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who collects Panini stickers together with her 3 1/2-year-old grandson Gabriel, prefers older versions of the album because they were simpler to compile and without so many visual elements, newspaper Folha do S. Paulo reported April 29.

In addition to stickers featuring the 32 teams participating in the World Cup and sponsors, Panini collectors have to find images of stadiums, mascots and the official ball.

Brazil’s struggle to complete work on readying itself in time for the event is also shown up in the album. Six stadiums missed a 2013 deadline for completion, with the venue in Sao Paulo slated to open the tournament on June 12 the furthest delayed. The sticker for the stadium shows an incomplete venue.

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