Springtime is one of the busiest periods on the professional sports calendar each year. Opening day for the 2022 Major League Baseball season fell on April 7 this year. The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League both end their regular seasons and begin their playoffs in April. While football fans have to wait until the fall for their teams to retake the field, many pro football obsessives eagerly anticipate the next generation of players entering the league with April’s National Football League draft.
This exciting time for fans of the “Big Four” sports in the U.S. is increasingly becoming a worldwide phenomenon as the leagues attract more top-end international talent. Reigning American League MVP and Japan native Shohei Ohtani has revolutionized the MLB as one of the first players in generations to achieve success simultaneously as a pitcher, hitter, and fielder, while many of baseball’s other top stars, including recent MVPs like Jose Abreu and Jose Altuve, hail from Latin America.
]The last three NBA MVP awards have gone to international players — two for Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and one for Serbia’s Nikola Jokic — and a fourth looks likely, with Antetokounmpo, Jokic, and Cameroon’s Joel Embiid being the frontrunners for this year’s award. The NHL has long drawn a large portion of its player pool from Canada and Europe in addition to the U.S., and even the NFL — which has only around 3 percent international players — has been attempting to inspire more global interest by playing regular season games in the U.K., Mexico, and Germany.
Despite recent growth of the Big Four sports’ international talent pool, international players still represent a small share of MVP award winners historically. The U.S. has produced 70 percent of all MVP award recipients, while Canada is responsible for 20.6 percent of winners, and all other countries combined have produced 9.4 percent. Only 15 countries outside of Canada and the U.S. have ever produced MVPs.
For now, the U.S. remains the leading producer of top end talent in its major sports leagues, and some states are far ahead of the pack. In particular, California has been a hotbed for MVPs, with 47 all-time winners, nearly half of which (21) have been awarded since the year 2000. California’s recent dominance in MVPs has been fueled by all-time greats like the MLB’s Barry Bonds (seven total MVP awards) and the NFL’s Aaron Rodgers (four) and Tom Brady (three).
In fact, California alone has produced more than 10 percent of all Big Four MVP winners in history. California and many of the other leading states are among the U.S. leaders in population, which increases the number of top athletes who may emerge from those states. But one state stands out for punching above its weight: Louisiana. Despite being in the middle of the pack for U.S. population, the Bayou State has produced 19 MVP awards from nine unique winners, including 10 NBA MVPs, second only to New York’s 13, and eight NFL MVPs, behind only California’s 12.