World Cup Sticker Shock Has Swiss Paying Triple Brazil's Cost

(Bloomberg) -- Soccer’s governing body FIFA may be based in Zurich, but that doesn’t mean the Swiss benefit from any kind of special deal as they race to gather hundreds of World Cup stickers; nowhere else are the collectibles more expensive.

World Cup Sticker Shock Has Swiss Paying Triple Brazil's Cost

A packet of five stickers, which soccer fans use to complete an album of national teams, costs the equivalent of $1.8 in the European country, triple the $0.59 they cost in Brazil, a fact which Banco Santander economist Luciano Sobral acknowledges could offer fans a money-making opportunity.

“In theory, yes, there could be arbitrage,” Sobral said by phone with a laugh.“If you manage to buy enough of them to fill a suitcase in Brazil and bring them to Switzerland, your gain in percentage terms is big.”

As standardized and globalized goods, the stickers should in theory be useful for evaluating purchasing power, akin to The Economist’s Big Mac index, Sobral said.

World Cup Sticker Shock Has Swiss Paying Triple Brazil's Cost

Modena, Italy-based Panini Group has been selling stickers for every tournament since the 1970 edition in Mexico, and children and adults alike swap stickers in a rush to acquire the players needed to complete the album before the tournament begins -- this year in Russia on June 14. Huddles of collectors trading cards are a familiar sight across Brazil in the months leading up to the football event. In the 2014 World Cup, even then-President Dilma Rousseff joined the frenzy.

Price variation across the world is similar to that of Big Macs, according to Sobral’s analysis of available price data from 21 countries and the Euro region, although the correlation between prices and GDP per capita is “much weaker,” perhaps due to local labor that’s required for the sandwiches. The biggest divergence in sticker price was between Latin America, particularly Brazil, and Eastern Europe, according to his April 24 report.

“I have little data with which to make a claim,” Sobral said. “One possibility is it’s a market position; as Brazil is a big country, by far the biggest economy in Latin America, maybe they prefer to gain in volume rather than in margin. Make the stickers cheap to sell a lot of them.”

Phone calls and emails to Panini went unanswered.

A total of 682 stickers, known as figurines in Latin America, are needed to complete the collection. Sobral has collected the stickers since he was a child, and 2018 marks the first time he’s done so with his own son. They have about 100 left to fill their book before the tournament kicks off in June, he said.

If a collector were to fill the album without trading with others, it would mean buying on average 967 packets, according to a formula from Paul Harper, a professor at Cardiff University’s School of Mathematics. That would be $1,741 in Switzerland and $570 in Brazil.

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