SPFL chief Neil Doncaster has credited the innovative new League Cup format for helping secure a £1 million-plus three-year sponsorship deal for the competition which rebranded it as the Betfred Cup from next season.
The revamp will feature a group stage kicking off in early summer, with drawn matches to be decided by a penalty shoot-out, the winners of which will gain an extra point.
The deal with bookmaker Betfred represent a threefold increase in the sum earned on the previous contract with energy company Utilita. On the back of improved media deals with the BBC, Sky and BT Sport, Doncaster was able to talk up the game at Hampden yesterday without his words having a hollow ring.
There will be a genuine fascination about the first Betfred Cup that will see competitive football in Scotland kick off at the height of summer for the first time, with the first games scheduled for 16 July.
The newly formatted League Cup will begin with teams split into eight groups of five on a seeded basis, meeting each other once in games that, if not won outright, will be settled by penalty shoot-outs.
“It’s indicative of the level of interest around the game at the moment, and the level of positivity, that we had a number of brands that were interested in being part of this new-look competition,” Doncaster said.
“BT Sport have stepped up and have gone from showing four games up to 13 live [per season]. Together with the group stage and the summer football aspect, all of that has created interest in this competition and that has led to a number of brands coming forward. Our job is to run competitions and commercialise them as best we can for the member clubs. Anything that is bringing in more money to help the game in Scotland has to be a good thing. This clearly does that.
“It’s pretty rare that announcements from leagues or governing bodies get such positive support as the new-look League Cup did. I think that’s testament to the boldness of the clubs who have been prepared to go along with some pretty radical change.
“The group stage, the bonus point for a penalty shoot-out in a drawn game in the group stage, the mid-July start and the creation of the winter break for the Premiership teams, this is a reward for that.”
The group stage will involve all 38 league teams not involved in Uefa qualifiers plus winners of this season’s Highland League and Lowland League.
“The clubs have been bold enough to embrace some pretty big change to a long-established competition and I think the level of interest and commerciality delivered from BT Sport and Betfred is a reward for that, and that will be paid out through TV money and prize money through this competition. If you do the right thing you get the result. The clubs have been bold enough to do that and they have got a positive result out of it.”
There is always a little grit in the oyster, however, and the nature of Scottish football’s newest sponsor provides that. With the league under the auspices of Ladbrokes, William Hill backing the Scottish Cup and now Betfred buying their name on to the League Cup, all three of the country’s major football competitions are sponsored by betting firms.
Whatever such firms might claim, gambling is one of the scourges in our society. Doncaster danced around the question of ethical considerations being set aside in the pursuit of revenue streams.
“Betfred are an established high street blue chip company. They promote a responsible gambling message which must be commended,” he said. “I think it must also be noted that we’ve had a number of other sectors and products that have and continue to be involved in this competition. Training services, Utilita and AG Barr and Irn Bru as official soft drinks. Ultimately we have a duty to the clubs competing in these competitions to get the best high-profile name and the best money we can, and that’s why we’ve gone with Betfred in this instance.”