Marketplace WM: "Swap Ballack for Yakin"

Table of contents:

Marketplace WM: "Swap Ballack for Yakin"
Marketplace WM: "Swap Ballack for Yakin"

Swap Ballack for Yakin

With the World Cup final between France and Italy, the corresponding "Panini" pictures are likely to increase their market value again. The fever of collecting and exchanging sportsman portraits has long since spread beyond just children. Three ETH political scientists from the Center for Comparative and International Studies have also succumbed to the fascination - and tapped into their know-how to find out how bartering can be made most profitable. Wednesday morning, 9.50 a.m., a playground somewhere in Switzerland. Groups of students form, heads are put together, and the deal is settled just before the bell rings. Drugs are not traded here. It's about soccer pictures. Ever since the Panini brothers got their business idea rolling with the album for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the ritual has been repeated from tournament to tournament: fans buy and swap until the very last place in the album can be wrapped. Offer Ballack, seek Yakin. The collecting mentality is almost like a world champion - in Switzerland alone, over 150 million Panini pictures were sold in the first three weeks of collecting. Long before the start of the World Cup, the record from 2002, when Panini sold around 245 million pictures in Switzerland - an average of around 35 pictures per inhabitant! – have been equalized.

After the game is before the game

Following the instructions of the legendary German coach Sepp Herberger, now that the collecting fever is slowly fading, the time has come for a sober analysis of this activity. Because if you only smile at the Panini phenomenon, you fail to see what can be learned from it. The forefathers of modern economics, Adam Smith and David Riccardo, already proclaimed that exchanges that came about voluntarily brought both exchange partners an advantage. How great are such benefits? What factors do they depend on? In addition, the Panini market offers a welcome object of investigation.

Exchange brings savings of around 80 percent

The dynamics of the panini market can be examined in detail using an agent-based computer model. The method of agent-based modeling is enjoying increasing popularity in the social sciences, as it allows societies with many individuals to be simulated on the computer for study purposes. In our computer model of the panini market, there are a certain number of collectors. Each of these artificial agents has only one thing in mind: to complete their Panini album. To do this, he buys Panini images and trades them with other agents in the system.

The number of collectors in the exchange market and their degree of networking can now be varied with the model. The degree of networking is the proportion of all collectors in the system that an agent counts among its exchange partners on average. With a network level of 0, an agent does not know any other collectors and can only populate their album through purchase. On the other hand, a degree of networking of 1 means that the collector can contact and exchange with all other collectors. So how does the number of players and the degree of networking affect the efficiency of the exchange market? The computer model can help us to clarify this question.


The researchers determined the average number of duplicate images a collector would have before completing their album. Complete here means that the album is filled up to the last 20 pictures, because these can be ordered from Panini according to the rules of the game. If everyone now collects for themselves and does not swap (connection level 0), more than 1400 duplicate pictures will remain at the end, and everyone has spent around 370 francs on their album. Even a low degree of networking of 0.2 reduces these costs dramatically: around 140 pictures are left over and an album only costs 130 francs, i.e. about a third.

But there is another - much weaker - effect. In markets with a larger number of collectors, there will be fewer doubles at the end, as many collectors can be traded with. In summary, the simulation clearly shows the strong influence of the networking of the collectors - it doesn't even have to be the "perfectly networked market", a few bartering partners are enough.

The perfect market within reach

At the 1990 and 1994 World Cup, exchange profits were primarily reserved for schoolchildren. Adult collectors, on the other hand, had a hard time and sometimes spent a fortune due to the lack of an exchange partner. Who likes to stand at a school entrance and talk to minors? However, this already changed at the World Cups in 1998 and 2002. Panini collecting was no longer considered infantile, but chic. The little pictures became a coveted cult object. However, the older semesters benefited above all from technological developments.

The first internet exchanges expanded the exchange options considerably. While the stock exchanges of the time still had the somewhat cumbersome character of forums, today's swapping sites such as '' organize almost perfect swapping meetings. After entering the Panini pictures to be offered and the ones you are still looking for, the partner with whom the maximum number of pictures can be exchanged is determined within seconds. This saves time and effort. The technical possibilities of the Internet have thus brought the idea of the perfect market within reach.

Do Panini's skins swim away?

If electronic exchange processes benefit collectors significantly, is this at the expense of Panini? In principle, of course. However, the manufacturer has numerous options for intervening in the market. Between 1994 and 2006, Panini constantly increased the number of gaps in the albums to be filled. In addition, the number of images per packet has been reduced from six to five. Panini can also intervene in terms of price: in 1998 a picture cost ten centimes at a kiosk, today it is 18 centimes.

Finally, there is the possibility of further expanding the collector community through advertising. In 2006, for example, Panini advertised its pictures with TV commercials and advertisements for the first time. The distribution was also increased through cooperation with other products. Pictures were included with a 'Crispy Breakfast' from Nestlé, Le Matin, Blick and Sonntagsblick provided their readers with the empty album free of charge.

In the end, paradoxically, it's the collectors themselves who shouldn't really be interested in further perfecting the market. After all, the appeal of collecting lies in the hunt for pictures, i.e. in the social process of exchange. If I can fill my album with just one mouse click, I'd rather buy the World Cup special edition of Kicker right away.© ETH Life

Popular topic