Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Bigger World Cup Wins at Least One Fan in Italian Sticker Maker

  • Internet memes featuring Panini album surge after announcement
  • FIFA said World Cup will feature 48 teams from 2026 event

FIFA’s decision to expand soccer’s World Cup received a mixed reception from fans. For Italy-based sticker publisher Panini SpA, the news generated free publicity and the possibility of a windfall.

After governing body President Gianni Infantino announced the decision to expand soccer’s flagship tournament to 48 teams from 32 in 2026, Internet memes poking fun at the move appeared on Twitter. Several showed outsize versions of the Panini album, which followers fill with collectible stickers featuring team members. One poster joked that he’d need to sell his home to complete the 2026 version.

“It’s really positive for us,” Mike Riddell, managing director at Panini’s U.K. division, said by phone. “From a commercial point of view, it’s more teams.”

The closely held company’s best-seller is a World Cup album and sticker collection it has produced for every tournament since 1970. The last edition led to frenzied scenes across 2014 host Brazil, with even then-President Dilma Rousseff caught up in the rush to complete the book.

The 2014 edition spread across 72 pages and included 640 stickers, sold in packs of five at 50 pence (61 cents) each in the U.K.

Riddell declined to give details of sales, saying only that the number of packs sold per tournament “runs into the hundreds of millions.” On its website, Modena, Italy-based Panini said revenue for all its businesses, including comics and children’s magazines, exceeded 751 million euros ($789 million) in 2014.

Curacao, Tahiti

The European Club Association, which represents teams like Barcelona and Manchester United, protested the World Cup expansion, saying it would dilute the quality of competition. Based on current standings, the larger format could include teams from the island nations of Curacao and Tahiti, which have rarely made a mark in sports.

And what about those memes of Panini albums as big as houses?

“It’s great -- everybody is talking about us,” Riddell said, though he added that the company would have to exercise restraint in expanding the collections. “It’s not a given everybody is going to complete the album if you put too many stickers in it.”

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