One of the highest accolades in American sports is to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
We’ve analysed every MVP award for the four leading sports to work out what the winners have had in common.
There have been multiple MVP awards distributed in the history of the NFL. The most prestigious is the one conferred by the Associated Press (AP), which was established in 1957. A panel of 50 sportswriters vote at the end of the regular season, with the winner announced on the eve of the Super Bowl.
Quarterbacks have unsurprisingly dominated, accounting for over two-thirds of the awards handed out to date. This includes all of the eight most recent winners and 13 of the last 14.
Since the league was restructured into two four-division conferences in 2002, the American Football Conference (AFC) has provided five more MVPs than the National Football Conference (NFC). Furthermore, the NFC’s Eastern division is the only one of the eight not to have a player receive the award in this period.
The MVP judges have a clear bias towards success on the field. Since the 2002 restructure, only four awards have been won by players whose team did not have the best record in their division.
Since 1956, the NBA has awarded the Maurice Podoloff Trophy to the best-performing player in the regular season. Originally decided by a vote of NBA players, the recipient has been chosen by a panel of writers and broadcasters since the early 1980s.
Centers have been the most common recipients of the award, with players in this position having been named MVP over twice as many times as any other. However, despite Nikola Jokic winning the award in 2020-21, the era of the center appears to be over: he was the first center to be named MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-00.
The game is also increasingly being dominated by younger players. NBA MVPs have tended to be in their mid-to-late twenties, with Steve Nash being the most recent player to win the award in his thirties back in 2005-06.
Success on the court is even more important in basketball: since the last restructure in 2004-05, only two MVP awards have been won by players whose team did not have the best record in their division.
There are twice as many MVP awards to go around in baseball as both of the two constituent leagues – the American League and the National League – have their own. Votes are cast at the end of the regular season but the award winners are not announced until after the postseason has concluded.
Judges aren’t as focused on one position as they are in other US sports, with infielders edging it as the most popular choice overall. 2020 was a good example of this, with both of the awards going to first basemen.
Since the current structure was established in 1994, teams based in their league’s Western division have produced twice as many MVPs as those who play in the East: 24 to 12.
The Hart Memorial Trophy has been awarded to the most valuable player in the NHL since 1923. Votes are cast by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the end of the regular season, with a winner selected from three finalists after the playoffs.
Over half of all MVP awards to date have been won by centers, and either a winger or a center has claimed the award in 17 of the last 18 seasons. Interestingly, right wingers have won 17 MVP awards and left wingers only seven.
While the average MVP in the NHL was a shade under 30 at the end of the season, the winners are getting younger and younger. The last 15 players to receive the award have had an average age of roughly 25 years and 4 months.
Since the Eastern and Western Conferences were created in 1974-75, players based in the West have won three more awards overall. However, this owes a lot to the early dominance of Western teams, with 18 of the 28 most recent MVPs being based in the East.
Unlike the other three major US sports, the NHL’s MVP award often goes to a player whose team did not dominate their division. Only 40% of winners under the current format represented the team who had the best record in their conference.
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