Anthony Costa sports branding

Anthony Costa

Sports Identity & Design

Ed Sabol

February 11, 2015
Ed Sabol

Ed Sabol, the father of NFL Films, has passed away at 98. He was a true individual who transformed what sport could be.

I didn't grow up watching NFL Films. Hank Stram’s garbled grammar and Dick Butkus’ raw knuckles weren’t staples of Australian TV. But Sabol's work cast a spell on me the moment I first saw it. Sport never felt so grave and visceral.

A showman and straight-shooting hustler, Sabol had the pluck to promise Pete Rozelle that his family movie company could turn the NFL into America’s most watched league. He achieved so much more, imbuing the sport with drama that translated to all ends of the earth. 

Ed Sabol’s innovations such as super slo-mo changed how all sport would be broadcast. But it was his greatest production – his son Steve – who would elevate sports television to an artform. Adopting the lyrical editing of Yoshio Kishi, Steve struck a visual style that made the NFL iconic. The swirling soundtracks of Sam Spence and lead-heavy voice of John Facenda were the league's signature notes. It was the birth of the most compelling brand image in world sport. 

NFL Films made football big. Brands today obsess about appearing small and gnawingly likeable. The Sabols went the other way. They projected the NFL’s brand down from the heavens. Pro football wasn’t a personable, folksy pastime. It was a battle between gods, a game of awe and thunder. The Sabols imposed the NFL on America, shooting it larger than life. It wasn't merely a game to be watched idly. Pro football became an event, witnessed in full colour glory.

How would Ed Sabol fare if he were starting out today? Would he be afforded the time and resources to hone the signature language of NFL Films? Would he be allowed to dream in widescreen or hurried to churn out a stream of quickly digestible content?

Without Ed Sabol's over-investment in his craft NFL Films' legacy would not be what it is today."Cheap is cheap", Sabol used to quip. The extraordinary rarely comes in under budget. 

Ed Sabol was a master filmmaker. He knew that what matters most is not what we see today, but what lives on in our memories. Sabol was a storyteller who wove the NFL into the grand drama of everyday life. His creative legacy will outlast us all.


Picture via eBay.

Anthony Costa

Anthony Costa is a designer specialising in sports branding. Anthony has appeared on Fox Sports News , 1116 SEN, ABC Radio and is an Australian Sports Commission Media Awards finalist. His work has been featured in The Age, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Sports Business Insider Australia.

Follow @CostaSports


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