Scottish football will take a significant step towards embracing summer football when a radical new format for the League Cup allows the re-introduction of a winter break next season.
The Scottish Professional Football League unveiled details of the League Cup revamp which is being backed by BT Sport in a four-year television deal worth around £8 million.
The tournament will kick off on 16 July next year with a new first-round group stage. It will involve the 38 SPFL clubs not involved in European qualifiers at that time of the season, along with the winners of both the Highland and Lowland Leagues.
The eight groups of five teams will be seeded, with one Premiership club in each group, and regionalised where possible in order to minimise travel for teams and supporters.
Teams will face each other once in a round-robin system, giving them two home games and two away games, with the group stage completed by the end of July.
The traditional model of three points for a win and one point for a draw will be retained, but the SPFL are also introducing penalty shoot-outs for all drawn games in the group stage with a bonus point awarded to the winners from the spot.
The eight group winners and four best runners-up will qualify for the second round where they will be joined by the four European representatives and the tournament will revert to a straight knock-out format with unseeded draws.
The change to the calendar has allowed the SPFL board to reinstate a winter break, for two weeks in January, for Scottish Premiership clubs. It will also be offered to clubs in the Scottish Championship, League 1 and League 2.
The winter break, first introduced following the formation of the Scottish Premier League in 1998, was scrapped in 2003 because of fixture congestion.
“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,” said SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster.
“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 huge 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 prize-money for clubs. “The new format has also enabled the reintroduction 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.”
The BT Sport broadcast deal will remove the League Cup final from terrestrial television where it has been shown by BBC Scotland in recent years. The contract with the satellite broadcaster is worth around £2m a season, more than double the figure paid by BBC Scotland, and will see 13 games screened live – six from the group stage and seven from the knockout rounds.
“BT Sport is thrilled to deepen its connection to Scottish football through this new long-term deal,” said Simon Green, head of BT Sport. “Our team looks forward to bringing fans an exciting and innovative new competition. Today’s agreement expands our summer programming line-up while also giving Scottish football fans an exciting new summer football competition.”