LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Can Panini top Topps at Euro 2024?

Classy cards or classic stickers? The battle for Euro 2024

Historic companies from either side of the Atlantic battle to win over collectors

It’s a ritual as revered as football itself. For every major tournament, legendary Italian company Panini has produced a set of stickers to collect and affix into their allotted spots in a souvenir album. Those you’re missing you swap with friends.

If there’s still a glaringly empty box where some stray Dane or Belgian should be, you can fill the page by writing off to the company to complete the last frustrating few.

Across the Atlantic, they play a different game. During the boom years after the war, Topps created baseball cards, equally if not more venerated. These were small works of art, players depicted with hand-tinted colours, their stats painstakingly presented, the figures initially compiled by the manufacturers themselves.

Evoking the same alluring nostalgia as Panini, certain baseball cards became extremely valuable: an elusive first Mickey Mantle from 1952, the Rosebud of trading cards, sold for nearly $13 million in 2022.

Panini 1978 album/Peterjon Cresswell

With so much money to be made from childhood memories, it was only a matter of time before Topps moved into soccer, in the form of Match Attax. More visually arresting, these perfectly suited the youngsters of Generation Z in the early 2000s. By now, image rights were a lucrative issue, as was licensing for major events.

For Euro 2024, UEFA sold the rights to produce the stickers to Topps, forcing Panini to launch its own England 2024 collection. This, in turn, has meant that the Topps series is lacking key names but including odd choices with little hope of making Southgate’s final 26. Under-21 player Luke Thomas earned an unenviable footnote on his Wiki page by making the Topps England squad.

To assess this sticky situation, Libero spoke with two experts in the field: Greg Lansdowne, author of Stuck on You, Panini Stickers – The Official Celebration and Panini Legends, due for publication in October; and Dan of Got Need Swap, an online community for collectors of stickers and trading cards.

Panini 1970 album/Peterjon Cresswell

Libero: Why does Panini have a particular attraction and when did you first start collecting their stickers?

Greg Lansdowne: Panini has the longest-running existence as a football sticker/card company – its first Calciatori album came out in 1961-62 – so there are many, many generations of people who will see their name in the shops and be immediately whisked back to their childhood. Topps has been around longer than that in America but didn’t really dabble in football/soccer until they bought Merlin in 1995. Many children who grew up from the mid-90s onwards will now have an affinity with Topps due to their Premier League sticker albums and Match Attax cards.     

My first Panini album was Football 79, covering the 1978-79 UK domestic season. That began a lasting love affair with football stickers/cards and, of course, my most enduring relationship is with Panini – 45 years and still going strong! If you grew up during the 1980s and were a football fan – in England and many other countries – it is almost impossible not to have a fascination with Panini stickers.

Panini Museum/Kate Carlisle

Libero: How do you feel about the current situation concerning the Euro 2024 tournament?

Greg Lansdowne: As a historian of football stickers/cards, this isn’t the first time that both Panini and Topps have produced sticker albums for the same tournament. For example, Topps had the official licence for Euro 96 but Panini had the licence for all the teams.

Panini then held the Euro and World Cup licence for every tournament up until Euro 2024 – but that didn’t stop Topps producing several World Cup collections during that time. Now it is Topps which has the Euro licence again but once more has licence issues with the qualified nations (Panini has exclusive rights to England, France, Italy and Germany, as well as certain players including Kylian Mbappé).

These two giants of the collecting world have been slugging it out for decades now and there is no sign of any let-up. It’s no different to any other industry, albeit collectors would naturally benefit from there being one central album.

Topps Euro 2024/Peterjon Cresswell

Libero: How much difference has the situation between Panini and Topps in the run-up to Euro 2024 made to sticker collecting this year?

Got Need Swap: I think that Panini being able to create the England collection has saved the day. Topps being owned by Fanatics is the real issue. They are creating collections that suit the American market where one-off cards and stickers are king. Therefore, we end up with a sticker collection with literally hundreds of parallels. This means there will be some very valuable stickers.

In a way, it’s possible to ignore the parallels and just fill the gaps in your album, regardless of the border colour, but in reality, if you get a decent colour parallel, or even a numbered one, you are going to save it to see its value.

In the UK the value has always been in the full, completed collection and that’s no longer the case. To complete the Topps sticker album, you need over 1,700 stickers! 

This has meant that, in reality, the best collection for the UK market has been the Panini England collection but that’s not how shopping works. The buyers who are most affected by the situation are ending up as the majority of buyers who are kids and parents.

Panini 1978 album/Peterjon Cresswell

Someone high up at Topps or Fanatics needs to take a step back and a deep breath and stand up for them. The Champions League, the Euros, the World Cup and Premier League all need a 1-550 collection that has no parallels and all of the stickers should be portrait orientation. 

Libero: As younger collectors may have little memory of or brand loyalty to Panini, are they just as happy to collect Topps cards?

Got Need Swap: Again, most of the buyers are parents in supermarkets and newsagents. Inside the hobby, it might look like specialist websites and the Topps and Panini websites are the main source, but they’re not. 

I’ve no hesitation in saying an eight year old stood with their harassed parent in ASDA has little interest in who makes the albums. That might change if Topps continues to have licensing problems and include Luke Thomas instead of Phil Foden, and not featuring a Mbappé sticker or card. 

That’s the one thing that might make a difference in the next few years, because in the same way that kids don’t have a team they support these days, but individual players, the stickers they’ll want are those players. If Topps continues missing players, then they will see a drop in sales. 

Welcome to Modena/Kate Carlisle

It will be really interesting to see the sales figures for the Euros because there will be a drop-off but nowhere near what it might appear from the inside. The Topps sticker album will sell in droves and unfortunately convince them they’re going in the right direction.

If they analyse the figures properly, though, they might notice that single-packet sales have dropped off because kids aren’t very excited in a collection which isn’t complete. EBay resales of base sticker and swaps will also be way down, but unfortunately, neither of those matter to Topps as long as the 1/1 sells for hundreds!

Greg Lansdowne’s Panini Legends, showcasing the world’s greatest footballers through their Panini sticker appearances, is published in October. A tenth anniversary edition of his acclaimed Stuck on You: The Rise & Fall… & Rise of Panini Stickers is scheduled for 2025.

Got Need Swap, an online community for collectors of stickers and trading cards to swap their extras and finish their collections. With schools reluctant to allow trading activities to take place there, GNS has developed a digital network to replace this fun, playground activity.

For more on the history of Panini and a guide to their museum in Modena, Italy, see here.