After winning his second Wimbledon title and finishing the tennis year ranked world number one, Murray was the odds-on favourite to be crowned the first three-time winner in the show’s history.
Yet some of the loudest applause of the evening was reserved for Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee, who was named runner-up.
While his gold medal win in the Rio 2016 games made him a strong contender, it was the moment when he helped his stricken brother Jonny over the finish line at a World Series event in Mexico which saw his popularity soar.
Joking with host Gabby Logan about the heat being bad for a “pasty Yorkshireman”, he said it was a split-second decision to help his brother complete the race and push him over the line.
Murray was unable to attend the ceremony in Birmingham due to training, so received his award from 1999 winner Lennox Lewis in Miami.
After thanking his family and all those who voted for him, he said: “It’s been an amazing year for British sport and I’m very proud to be part of it.”
He also joked about his own wife having cast a vote for showjumper Nick Skelton, who came in third.
A total of five of the 16 shortlisted sports stars this year came from Yorkshire, with Rio gold medallists Nicola Adams and Kadeena Cox flying the flag for Leeds alongside Brownlee.
Adams became the first, and only, female boxer to win back-to-back Olympic gold at Rio and won her first world championships title to complete a grand slam of medals.
She said: “Every time I step into the ring, I want to be able to inspire the next generation.”
Sprinter Cox, who has multiple sclerosis, set a world record of her won when she became the first British athlete since 1988 to win gold in two sports – the C4-5 time trial and the T38 400m, in which she also set a world record time.
Cox spoke about how sport had saved her life and she now wanted to show that even with setbacks, it was possible to achieve great things.
The trio were joined by 10 other gold medallists from the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics on an extended shortlist, up from 12 nominations for both the 2012 and 2015 sports personality awards.
The three remaining nominees included two sports stars from Sheffield – Premier League winning striker Jamie Vardy and Masters winning golf star Danny Willett.
Standing on stage with his Leicester City team mates, Vardy told the audience: “It’s been remarkable, but the main thing is I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the boys behind me.”
The club and fans in the crowd had plenty to celebrate as Claudio Ranieri was named coach of the year and they were also crowned team of the year.
Michael Phelps was presented with the lifetime achievement award, while Paralympic swimmer Ellie Robinson, 15, was named young sports personality.
Other winners included East Midlands boxing coach Marcellus Baz, who was named the BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero for 2016.