As if Buenos Aires is gripped by a treasure hunt, hundreds of boys and girls, teenagers and adults of all ages traipse around the city’s kiosks and shops in search of the long-awaited prize: packs of stickers and the accompanying album of the Panini Qatar 2022 World Cup collection.
This year’s launch, however, has been characterised by the furore it aroused among children and the not-so-young, who ensured that stores in the capital sold out of both stickers and “pre-sale” albums in little more than 24 hours.
To go around and ask, almost until the point of exhaustion, is the premise. The search is on to acquire the 638 stickers needed to complete the World Cup album before it kicks off in November.
A clear indication of the collective "madness" were the long queues that formed outside the points of sale in the City last week, which in some cases stretched a hundred metres long. A tour allowed Perfil to verify first hand the lack of "figus" (as in, figuritas) at kiosks in Parque Patricios, San Cristóbal and most of Barracas. They were also missing stickers in Caballito, Palermo and Villa Crespo, Villa Devoto, Villa Urquiza and Agronomía, just to mention a few. The situation was recreated not only in the City of Buenos Aires and its surroundings, but in towns and cities across the country.
One possibility for those searching for stickers is to buy them from wholesalers and kiosk-suppliers, particularly those on Avenida Jujuy, between San Juan and Garay, or at stores in the Once neighbourhood. There are also exclusive shops that sell collectibles and stickers, such as the one located in Estados Unidos 2581, almost on the corner of Saavedra.
"On Friday [August] 19, around 12,000 packages were sold in one hour, the same on Monday. On Wednesday [August] 24, the official first day of sale, we couldn’t sell anything. Everything was sold out," said Martin Schipani, one of the licensed distributors.
"I've been in the business for several years, it's the first time I've seen this 'madness,'" he added, while sticking a sign with the phrase “No hay figuritas” to the dismay of desperate shoppers.
A pack with five stickers costs 150 pesos, while the album itself costs 750 pesos. The hardcover version costs 3,000 pesos. Multi-packs containing between 20 to 100 packs of stickers are also available at some locations with a lower cost per unit.
Those less willing to shell out can also enjoy a more accessible ‘virtual’ album by downloading an app to their mobile device. An account costs nothing and two digital envelopes are available each day.
Diego Benítez left work to hunt for stickers. After waiting in line for more than half an hour, he managed to buy some packs. "I looked everywhere. A relative told me that they were selling them on Avenida Jujuy. I didn't hesitate," says the 20-year-old, fanning out his new acquisitions like a deck of cards. "It's the last World Cup for [Lionel] Messi and [Ángel] Di María, Neymar and Ronaldo, among others.”
There is another way to get stickers: through digital delivery and e-commerce platforms. In the case of the latter, the cost of packs rose higher than their retail price. Panini Argentina, the manufacturer and marketer of the self-adhesive stamps also has its exclusive sales channel, zonakids.com. This offers an "Álbum Lleno" service, granting collectors the possibility of finding the missing stickers they need to complete the set.
Another good alternative is the meetings of collectors that are springing up in Buenos Aires’ biggest parks. A visit to Parque Rivadavia or Parque Centenario, to mention just two, can help sticker-searchers complete their albums. Social networks and WhatsApp groups are the best channels of information when it comes to finding out where meetings are taking place.
"Every World Cup is different, but we know that World Cup years are usually full of excitement and joy. Completing the album is a dream for young and old that accompanies that joy," said Nicolás Sallustro, marketing manager of Panini Argentina. "We can see that there is a lot of enthusiasm for this Qatar 2022 World Cup," he said.
Seeking to reassure collectors about stock, he added: "There is stock, and the stickers and albums will continue to be available at the usual points of sale."
Behind the boom
Among the main reasons interviewees gave for the boom in sticker-hunting was the realisation that Qatar 2022 may be the last time Argentines see stars like Lionel Messi and Ángel Di María at a World Cup. The Albiceleste’s chances may also have something to do with it.
"The fact that we see ourselves as candidates is one of the reasons for the furore," explained Luis Del Pino, a 20-year-old from Córdoba and a collector of the famous Panini sticker set since he was 5 years old.
From his Twitter account, @luis_delpi, he set up a thread listing distributors from all over the country where you can buy packs of stickers and albums.
The strong performances of ‘La Scalonetta’ has certainly aroused the interest of collectors, he added: “There is a higher demand compared to other World Cups. It is a significant sporting event and it makes people want to collect.
Fellow World Cup sticker collector Gustavo Cosenza agrees.
“I believe that this great demand has to do with a commercial issue, since there was a pre-sale and that generated a lot of enthusiasm to start collecting as soon as possible.
“From a sporting point of view, we are surely in the presence of Messi's last World Cup. In addition, the good presence of the national team helps us feel represented."
How much it costs to fill the album
For many, the collecting of Panini stickers ahead of a World Cup is a classic tradition, but each new collection offers more variants. For example, there is one dedicated purely to collectors. In the case of the album, the hardcover version costs 3,000 pesos. The standard edition costs 750 pesos.
A pack of stickers costs 150 pesos and contains five stickers, while 22,500 pesos is needed to purchase 150 packs in total, though it is impossible that a collector making such an outlay would not have repeated stickers. Most experts estimate that a purchase of between 200 and 250 packs are needed to find all of them, roughly costing between 30,000 and 37,500 pesos.