Of the millions of fans around the world now glued to the World Cup, my favorite is an endlessly mischievous 4-year-old in Brooklyn. My godson. He and his equally impish 7-year-old brother have been so excited for the World Cup that a game of full-speed kids vs. grownups soccer (pardon me: football) nearly had me wobbling for days after.
The boys are American soccer nuts with a Colombian dad, a mother with Brazilian relatives and a grandmother who grew up in Messi's hometown in Argentina. So they could be loyal to any of those teams.
But the real object of their devotion is a book of stickers that lists all the players, stadiums and even mascots. They are on a mad dash to collect all the stickers and fill their books. Every morning, almost the first thing that comes out of their mouths is what stickers they need, and whether there's any possibility to get them that day.
"See? I have a lot of Greece," the 7-year-old explains to me. "But I need Nigeria. Don't have a lot of them."
Long pause with studied, plaintive gaze directed at his mother, "When can we get more?"
The Panini sticker book album has become the must-have item for kids (and a LOT of adults) who are following the World Cup. With spots for players, stadiums and mascots, it would take 640 stickers to complete your album… if you magically bought packs of stickers with every player you needed. But of course it never works that way (as my godson with multiple Lionel Messi stickers can attest).
In the U.S., a pack costs $0.99, but of course, you probably need somewhere close to 1,400 packs to get a complete set. Why?
Well, The Economist broke down the amazing "stickernomics" recently, explaining just how nuts people can get about securing the ones they need (a note to that correspondent: I know a child who will trade you a Messi).
There's a rapid sticker trade on the internet, and in stores that sell Panini stickers, too.
Upper 90, a store in Brooklyn devoted to soccer, is sticker central. You can bring in your "extras" – that is, the players you already have – and trade them for the extras they have on hand. My two favorite fans have done it twice, "with great success," reports their mother.
The stickers are such a hot item that the Guardian reported a heist of 300,000 stickers in Brazil.
Mind-boggling, when you think about all the other economic stories around the World Cup.
But I can assure you, that to two small boys I know, a complete set would be absolutely priceless.