One of life's guilty pleasures (for some …) involves collecting World Cup football stickers. There, we said it. Therefore, a report this week suggesting that it would cost the average consumer more than £450 to complete the 640 space football sticker album came as a shock. It also shed light on a battle involving the official World Cup sticker supplier Panini, which has been supplying official tournament stickers for all but one World Cup since 1970, and Topps, a competitor of Panini that alleges unfair competition.
Topps complained to the European Commission back in 2010 that it was being denied entry into the official World Cup sticker market because of restrictive agreements and practices involving Panini, FIFA (the world football governing body) and national football associations.
Now, with the competition in Brazil in full swing, mathematicians at the University of Geneva (presumably supported by Topps) have published a report on the high costs of sticker collecting. Topps has also taken the opportunity to revitalise its arguments and try to prod the Commission into action. It claims that the FIFA licensing model is not transparent or objective, and discriminates in favour of Panini, thus infringing Articles 101 (relating to anti-competitive agreements) and 102 (abusing a dominant position) of the EU Treaty. In particular, Topps alleges that FIFA requires a licensee to have national association permissions before being considered for its own sticker licences, yet national associations are reticent to license their own rights to a company without FIFA rights approval. Topps points to the price per individual sticker doubling between 1998 and 2014.
It is currently unclear whether the Commission will initiate a formal investigation. In any event, the "children deserve better from Brussels!" Michael Eisner, the owner of Topps, emotively retorted. We say: and the adults too!