A lesson in reading, writing, arithmetic and marketing

When you are eight, you will sleep with anything!

When you are eight, you will sleep with anything! 


I am not a fan of soccer. I have no interest in watching 22 men running around a field, kicking a bit of plastic but for the next few weeks one cannot avoid soccer. Even in the United States of America (where football means a completely different game) they are watching the World Cup on TV.

But, I am willing to compromise because soccer is helping my son to improve his reading, his writing and his numerical skills. William Saward is passionate about collecting World Cup stickers. At every opportunity he begs his parents for a few coins so that he can nip down to the local shop and buy another two or three packets. These cost around 50 cents a packet.

He bought a special sticker book which he is slowly filling up. He loves that book so much that he takes it bed with him, just as he did a few years ago when he had a sailor's hat which could not be prized from his head. When kids have a passion for something, it is a strong passion.

We were going through the sticker book the other day and I realized that there are a total of 600 stickers that have to be purchased. There are five in a packet and there is no control on what you are going to get. You may get five stickers which you already have. There is (of course) a market in stickers at the local school, where you can swap obscure Senegalese soccer stars for unheard of players from Japan and Croatia.

In order to fill the book, I concluded it would take the purchase of something like 200 packets of stickers. And that means $100.

But the way I look at it, it is money well spent because by the end of it all, my son will have made huge progress in reading and numbers - and he will have enjoyed doing it.

As we were going through the book, I suddenly had a flashback to 1970 when I was eight and the World Cup took place in Mexico City. I had a similar sticker book and I was just as passionate about it as my son is today. I cannot remember much about it now but I remember that I was very keen to fill it with the likes of Pele, Bobby Moore and the Charlton Brothers...

At a later moment I found myself wondering how many fathers across the world are like me and are willing to spend the kind or money necessary to fill a book full of stickers. If there are only a million in the whole world, those sticker books are still going to generate three or four hundred million dollars. And in all probability there are probably 10 million kids out there collecting like crazy. Maybe even 20 million.

It is a licence to print money.

When I stumble across things like this I immediately relate them back to the sport I know best and ask the question: Why are the Formula 1 people not getting together and doing a sticker book deal every year?

You have only 22 active drivers but if you take the whole history of Formula 1 there have been about 600 F1 drivers. But you could also have the cars from each year, the teams all have factories, managers, engineers and logos. Race tracks have aerial photographs and posters.

It is just a question of a little imagination.

Let us do some very basic maths.

It is said that a Grand Prix attracts a viewership of 300m people. The known demographics of the sport are that there is a predominantly male audience (65%) mainly in the 30-50 age range and mainly from the most affluent sector of society (AB) - which means that they have had plenty of energy to breed and plenty of cash to spoil their kids.

Being absurdly conservative let us assume that one percent of the viewers either have (or are) a kid of a sticker-buying age (which is between eight and 12). That means that there is a (renewable) market of 3m people around the world willing to spend let us say $50 (which is only half the full amount necessary) to keep the kids happy. Some will spend more, some will spend less but let us use that as an average figure.

That makes... um... $150m. Knock off some costs (the printing of the books and stickers all have multiple languages and so the major cost would be advertising - and that would be largely word of mouth. Add to that some for money the distribution and for the retailers and let's say $30m) and let us then be generous and give SLEC and each of the 11 teams equal shares (a radical concept I know). That means $120m divided by 12.

Or to put it another way: $10m per team.

And all for the sake of a simple sticker book...

And you know what the best things is about a sticker book? It is not just making money, it is also educating a completely new generation of race fans. They are learning about F1 by osmosis when they try to swap a Rubens Barrichello sticker for a Jochen Rindts or a Jim Clark. Maybe in a few years they will become fans and start to buy tickets and merchandise.

Education, promotion, fun and profit?

Where's the catch?

The problem is that the teams will not agree to do any central merchandising because, some of them say, it is bad for their image to be associated with other less successful teams. And some drivers have lawyers who say that they own the Intellectual Property Rights to themselves and therefore should be getting a slice of the money and so on and so forth.

This is all garbage. Only one man (Michael Schumacher) has the clout to demand intellectual property right payments before he signs a contract. And even he has been told recently by Ferrari that there are restrictions on what he can market.

A little bit of thought and a single piece of paper with 12 signatures on it, could make the difference between the life and death of several teams in F1. Writing a sticker book is a whole lot easier than rewriting the rule book.

And William Saward would care more about the result...

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