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World Cup boon for merchandise makers

The vuvuzela was the noisemaker of choice during the 2010 World Cup. Its successor is called the combinho, which merchandisers hope will disseminate Brazilian samba sounds on German streets.

When sausages are wrapped in the German colors of black-red-gold, when fire lighters and charcoal are in short supply at supermarkets and when kids exchange colorful football stickers for their scrapbooks in schoolyards, it's clear the soccer World Cup is just around the corner.

It's not just fans - both young and old - who look forward to the world's biggest sporting event, but also the economy, as the market for football merchandise experiences a boom, promising lush profits for manufacturers.

Peter Rohlmann, an expert on sports marketing, says that football fans in Germany spend about one billion euros a year and this includes expenses related to professional football, amateur clubs, the national team and expenditures on products licensed by FIFA, the sport's governing body, as part of world or European championships.

This spending is reflected in the sales and profits of merchandise companies. For instance, Brandivision, a small firm based in the western German city of Monheim, earned around 30 million euros ($40.6 million) in revenue in just a few weeks at the time of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The company introduced the vuvuzela - a long, noisy plastic horn - to Germany just as television viewers were seeing South Africans use it.

Combinho music toy

The combinho's makers hope Germans will buy it to bring Brazilian samba sounds to German streets

"We will defend our 2010 title as the world champion in merchandise sales again in 2014," said Gerd Kehrberg, one of the three directors of the company. Together with his partners, Kehrberg aimed to build on the vuvuzela's success and looked for a compelling new noisemaker that could replicate its success this year.

Good music is a matter of taste

"We went to a Brazilian bistro in Düsseldorf to experience the ambience and after having four cocktails, we got the idea of how to do it," Kehrberg said, explaining the origin of the combinho.

It's an instrument consisting of a rattle, drum and a whistle - items that embody Brazilian music - at least to German ears.

No musical knowledge is needed to play it and there is no instruction manual. "Everyone can beat a drum and it doesn't always have to sound good" Kehrberg told DW. In football, he said, what counts is that the instruments are loud.

A key moment

But why do people buy this type of merchandise? Sebastian Uhrich, professor at the German Sport University in Cologne, says: "From psychology we know that people feel the need to classify themselves into certain groups and show others which social categories they belong to."

The World Cup is a special occasion when this behavior can be witnessed, Uhrich said. "Such a tournament affects all people, no matter whether they are interested in the sport or not, and almost no one escapes the World Cup fever."

But that was not always the case in Germany, where patriotic colors have only recently become visible on the streets. For many decades, Germans flying their flags in support of their football team was seen as unacceptable and "nationalistic" - until the country hosted the World Cup in 2006.

"It was the key moment when it became a little bit easier for Germans to display their national symbols with pride," Uhrich said.

It was also a crucial moment for the merchandise industry. German flags were sold on a large scale. The combinho is also available in the colors of the German flag. "We expect strong sales, similar to those of the vuvuzela," Kehrberg said.

First German Panini sticker book from 1974 World Cup (Panini-Verlags GmbH)

Panini stickers have been popular collectors' items in Germany for 40 years

A best-seller for 40 years

The World Cup is a good occasion not just for a noisemaker, but also for products such as Panini football stickers. Germans have collected them ever since 1974 - when the Italian company released its first German sticker sets in time for the 1974 World Cup, which West Germany hosted. But they are popular worldwide.

"Paninis are very popular in Brazil, regardless of where the World Cup takes place," company spokeswoman Christine Fröhler said.

Germany is again the largest market for such items in Europe, she said. "Germany hosting the World Cup was a high point in Panini's history." It's a record the company expects to meet this year, she said.

The countdown is on and the event is set to kick off on June 12. And football merchandise manufacturers are among those looking ahead with the most enthusiasm.