So, with Scottish football always needing a fresh injection of new ideas to boost the ‘product’ (I hate that term), there have been some announcements in the last few days about the Scottish League Cup’s new revamp.
Everyone’s favourite Chief Execute Neil Doncaster explained the reason behind the change and announced a new partner for the competition –
“The new format of the Scottish League Cup marks an exciting new chapter for the competition and sees Scottish football leading the way with a number of innovations.
“Fans, the media and clubs alike have expressed a desire for competitive summer football which will be delivered from next July while the ground-breaking bonus point system should add incentive to teams and excitement for supporters.
“We are delighted to welcome BT Sport as our exclusive League Cup TV broadcast partner and to have their support for the new format. Our agreement with BT Sport delivers a huge increase in the number of games being shown live as well as providing increased competition prizemoney for clubs.
“The new format has also enabled the re-introduction of a winter break for Ladbrokes Premiership clubs. We are consulting with Ladbrokes Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs to establish whether they also favour a winter break in their respective divisions.”
So, what are the “exciting” new changes? Well, the new format will see eight groups of five teams play each other once each in a round-robin format across five July dates (16th, 20th, 23th, 27th & 30th). As the SPFL website tells us, the new 80-game group stage will involve all 38 teams not involved in UEFA qualifiers plus winners of this season’s Highland League and Lowland League.
The group stage uses the traditional three points for a win and one point for a draw model however, in another innovation, all drawn matches will go straight to a penalty shoot-out whereby the winner of the shoot-out will be awarded a bonus point, believed to be a first in world football.
The bonus-point system is designed to create greater excitement around every match as well as providing more points variations to increase the number of meaningful games throughout the group stages. The eight group winners and four best runners-up progress to the second round, when they are joined by the four UEFA qualifying clubs and the competition reverts to traditional knock-out format.
With BT Sport further adding to their current Scottish TV deal it does all seem pretty positive. My own personal view is that any change to a tired old format is pretty welcome. The games, if marketed properly and priced properly, will hopefully add a bit of intrigue and make for some interesting early season games. The penalty shootout idea is an odd one but might add a bit of excitement (the whole ‘bonus point’ idea will take getting used to).
I would really like proper pricing for these games, that would make a huge difference. It would also be good to see teams experiment with younger players during the earlier stages.
For a fan I like the idea of visiting new grounds early in the season, plus if the games are regionalised it would hopefully boost attendances and get some local interest in a few of the ties (again, pricing has to be correct). The inclusion of the Highland and Lowland leagues gives fans an opportunity to see sides that they wouldn’t normally and with the inclusion of sides from the Highlands and Lowlands that actually means those leagues are represented in three competitions now.
Other things should be considered though. If we are going down the bonus points road then why not award bonus points for goals scored, or for high scoring draws? Also, I would like to see the distribution of gate money made clear, and hopefully weighted towards smaller clubs. The draw for the competition should also be totally unseeded. The current format seeds teams in the early rounds but it would make for a more interesting competition if it was just a free for all.
Some would argue that the best revamp of the League Cup would be to scrap it all together. It is often referred to as the ‘diddy cup’ so it will take a lot of work to get it back to a higher profile trophy. What about transferring the European place to the competition? Or, and this is maybe a bit too far fetched, alternate the European place with the Scottish Cup but increase the prize money for the other trophy.