For the past five weeks I have been carrying out some I depth research. Racking my brain to know what to fill the pages of TBIR until the start of the World Cup I came up with a brilliant idea.  The problem with brilliant ideas is that unless you are the cleverest man in the world then someone else will almost certainly also be having that very same thought and putting it into practice quicker than you.  Of course you can argue that it was your idea first and hope they back down but when the “person” in question is one of the world’s most respected magazines you are onto a loser.

So whilst The Economist may claim to have published their research first, mine was researched and written out of love and an understanding of a cult that is sweeping the nation – Paninitis.

I’m a huge fan of the work of Levitt with Freakanomics, Erik Qualman and his Socionomics and of course Stefan Szymanski with Soccernomics. But Stickernomics has got thousands of grown men reliving our youths.

Panini stickers are nothing new.  At any time there must be at least a couple of collections going on, whether it be a film tie-in, the latest boy band or of course the annual Premier League outing.  But every two years comes the main event.  Whether it be a European Championships year or a World Cup one, the footballing world goes crazy for small oblong stickers.

image (1)Never have Panini stickers been so popular.  The reason? It’s a generational thing.  I’m of an age where the tradition of spending my pocket money on packets of stickers, then taking my swaps into the playground is still one of my enduring memories of childhood.  As we have grown up, we’ve still hung onto that feeling, trying to actively encourage our kids to take up the habit, reliving our schooldays through them.  And if they have no interest? Then we simply pretend we are collecting for them.  “They will thank me one day when they are worth a fortune” we tell ourselves.

So my idea. I wanted to try and understand some of the myths behind collecting the stickers.  Is there actually a “golden sticker”, one that no one had? Was there a regional/international bias? Did it make any difference if you bought in bulk or individual? And what impact had social media had on collecting?

Ambitious? Possibly.  Will anyone care? Probably not. Would I end up filling up my sticker book any quicker? I very much doubt it. So what do those clever chaps at The Economist say?

According to Sylvain Sardy and Yvan Velenik, two boffins at the University of Geneva, you would have to buy 899 consecutive packets to beat the odds and fill your album – an outlay of just £449.50, based on a very complex algorithm looking at the simple probability that in every pack you get 5 different stickers, with 640 to collect and diminishing returns for every packet you open.

The Economist wasn’t the only section of the media who were frying to understand the real numbers behind the stickers.  In an interview with the Independent this week, Matthew Scroggs, who works at a secondary school in West London, worked out that the average football fan should expect to purchase 4,505 stickers, or spend £413.24, to complete the whole book. Doesn’t sound so much fun when you put it like that does it?

14325766631_613d05c4eb_bThe one question that has always been asked is “does it make a difference where I buy my stickers?” That was to be the based of my study.  Whilst Panini say there are equal numbers of each sticker printed and randomly distributed in a pack, the fact I currently have nine Kolo Toure’s would suggest otherwise.  Those big brained Swiss mathematicians carried out a sample test back during the 2010 World Cup and found that they got each sticker on average nine times out of a sample of 6,000 stickers.

So this is what I did. I started off by buying 10 packs from different locations. Never the same shop twice.  Even when I was travelling around Europe I managed to find shops that sold the stickers.  Zürich, Stockholm, Boston, Hong Kong. The latter took a bit of research, but that’s to a superb Concierge in my hotel he tracked down a secret stash.  For every set of 10 I recorded the numbers of wants v gots and the spread of different countries (counting the first section of stadiums and FIFA stickers as one “country”).

As any researcher will tell you, one data set can be made to prove anything. So to get a different view point I bought a box of 100 packets, sealed at the factory.  Well, that’s what it said on eBay although I was mindful of the 300,000 packets that were stolen from a warehouse in Rio in April. The box cost me £37.99, a 28% discount on buying them retail, again a sign that raised a flag or two in my mind.  The methodology was the same, opening 10 packs a day and recording the results. 10 randomly bought packs and 10 from the eBay box

So what did we find after opening 200 packets and looking at 1,000 stickers? How about these facts for starters?

Area of Purchase (in date order) No. of unique stickers (out of 50)
London – SE9 34
London – SE1 28
Arlanda Airport – Stockholm 19
Kloten Airport – Zurich 27
Brooklyn – New York 23
Boston – Massecuessettes 31
Hong Kong Island – Hong Kong 25
Fields Shopping Center – Copenhagen 22
Bluewater Shopping Centre – Kent 17
Munich city centre 18
Total of sample of 100 packets 244
Average uniques per pack 48%


Sets from Ebay box No. of unique stickers (out of 50)
Sticker packs 1 to 10 37
11 to 20 31
21 to 30 23
31 to 40 23
41 to 50 25
51 to 60 21
61 to 70 17
71 to 80 16
81 to 90 20
91 to 100 14
Total of sample of 100 packets 227
Average uniques per pack 45%
  Set 1 – 10 x 10 random Set 2 – 100 packets Total – 200 packets
Most popular set Italy – 7% Australia – 11% Switzerland – 10%
Least popular set South Korea – 1% Netherlands – 1% South Korea – 2%
Most popular sticker Kolo Toure – 5 Mamadou Sakho – 5 Kolo Toure – 7
Most unique sticker batch Batch 1 Batch 1 Batch 1
Least unique sticker batch Batch 9 Batch 10 Batch 10
Average “uniques” per pack 2.4 2.2 2.3
Total unique stickers 244 227 471


Switzerland was my first full set, completed when I had only got 243 stickers in total.  After a fast start, some sets simply stopped appearing in some of the packs in the Ebay bought box.  Netherlands, Uruguay and the mighty England had an appearance rate of less than 3 per hundred, whilst the most popular ones, Italy, Switzerland and Australia were appearing at a rate of more than 10 per hundred on average.

imageThe law of diminishing returns has never been truer that with Panini stickers.  As a treat, the Current Mrs Fuller bought me ten packets at the weekend after I had over indulged on the chores.  My previous ten packets (from the EBay 100) had resulted in a 30% “need” rate, but it appeared that I had reached some kind of reverse tipping point as this batch only yielded 5 stickers that I didn’t have (10%).  Bizarrely, of these five, three were from South Korea.

So what did my experiment tell me?  Well, I am still fifty or so stickers shy of completing the set with a swap list that is greater than my got list and so far the “hobby” has cost me (including CMF as I gave her housekeeping to buy the random packs for me) around £275 which is significantly less the average amount Scroggs, Sardy and Velenik suggest. Granted, I will complete my collection with the help of a Facebook group where the rules specifically state only trades for swaps, and no cash, can take place.

Was there any geographical bias in the uniqueness of my stickers? There didn’t appear to be.  The concept of buying a full box of 100 was marginally less successful than buying 10 packets in 10 different locations but at the end of the day I wasn’t doing it for any mathematical research.  The nearest I get to being an Economist is when I bought an online subscription to the magazine.

Of course, I am investing for my daughters’ future rather than some kind of personal football obsession.  After all, one day the completed book will be a collector’s item. And, of course, it’s all about pure statistical research.  That’s what I tell everyone who questions why someone of my age is collecting stickers.

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