Scottish League Cup
|Number of teams||42|
|Most successful club(s)||Rangers
|Television broadcasters||BBC Scotland (2015–16 onwards), BT Sport (2016–17 onwards)|
|2015–16 Scottish League Cup|
The Scottish League Cup, known as the Scottish League Cup presented by Utilita for sponsorship reasons, is a football competition open to all Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) clubs. In the past it has been sponsored by Coca-Cola, Skol Lager, Bell's whisky, Co-operative Insurance and QTS Group. The competition, like the Scottish Cup, is currently a straight knockout format but will become a group and knockout competition from 2016–17.
The competition is open only to the 42 clubs who compete in the SPFL. There are no replays, so all matches ending in a draw after 90 minutes are decided by extra time and, if necessary, penalty kicks.
The four teams who, based on results of the previous season, have qualified for UEFA competitions are given a bye until the third round of competition, together with the highest placed Premiership finisher not in UEFA competitions. The seven other teams in the Premiership in the previous season receive a bye into the second round.
The 29 teams from the lower three divisions and the team promoted to the SPFL Premiership are seeded based on the previous year's league positions and begin play from the first round. They are drawn into pairs (one seeded and one unseeded) with the games played at the stadium of the first team drawn. (The draw is set up to ensure that a seeded team at home in the first tie is followed by an unseeded team at home in the second, and so on) The 15 teams advancing from the first round are drawn together in the second round with the seven teams receiving a bye. The eleven teams who advance from the second round are joined by the final five teams in the third round, with seeding in place. The remaining rounds of competition are unseeded.
The semi-final matches are played on a neutral ground, determined by the location and size of supports involved. The final game is traditionally played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, though due to renovations some finals have been played at other venues, such as Celtic Park or Ibrox.
From the 2016–17 season, the Scottish League Cup will have a revamped format. On 7 December 2015, the SPFL announced a new format for the League Cup along with a new broadcasting rights deal. From the summer of 2016, the new format will see eight groups of five teams play each other once each in a round-robin format across July with three points being given for a win, one point for a draw but if matches are level after ninety minutes in the group stage then it will be decided with a penalty shoot-out with the winning team gaining a bonus point.
The eight group winners and four best runners-up will progress into the second round where they will be joined by the clubs that had matches in UEFA competitions during July where the tournament will return to a knockout format. The new format also allowed the SPFL to reintroduce the two-weekend winter break in January. Along with the newly designed tournament, a new television deal for it was announced as BT Sport took over rights from BBC Scotland.
The cup has its origins in a regional cup competition called the Southern League Cup which was introduced in 1940 when wartime restrictions led to a suspension of the Scottish Cup. This tournament was largely regional and did not involve all of the teams who comprised the Scottish Football League prior to the outbreak of war. The first official Scottish Football League Cup was contested during the 1946–47 season, when Rangers defeated Aberdeen in the final.
The competition was very popular with supporters during the first few decades of its existence. The tournament consisted of 8 or 9 groups consisting of 4 or 5 teams. The groups were seeded into 2 sets with the top 16 teams in Division 1 making up the first four Groups. This guaranteed that 4 'top' teams would play 4 'lesser' teams in the quarter-finals.
Extra games when the Premier League was formed and expanded European competitions meant that by the early 1980s, its long-winded format, which involved group rounds played early on in the season leading to two-legged knock-out rounds similar to the modern UEFA Champions League, attracted much criticism. In the mid-1980s the tournament was revamped to a shorter, single elimination knock-out style with a final played prior to Christmas, which provided the excitement of a cup final early in the season.
During the 1999–2000 competition, the semi-finals and final were moved to the springtime in order to avoid the congestion of fixtures caused by the early rounds of the UEFA club competitions and Scotland’s representatives in Europe were given automatic byes until the third round of competition.
The League Cup has been known by different names due to sponsorship:
- Bell's League Cup (1979–81), sponsored by Bell's whisky
- Skol Cup (1984–92), sponsored by Skol Lager
- Coca-Cola Cup (1994–97), sponsored by Coca-Cola
- CIS Insurance Cup (1999–2008), sponsored by CIS Insurance
- Co-operative Insurance Cup (2008–11), sponsored by The Co-operative Insurance
- Scottish Communities League Cup (2011–13), sponsored by the Scottish Government
- The Scottish League Cup presented by QTS (2015)
- The Scottish League Cup presented by Utilita (2015–16)
Since the competition's inception, the winning team has always been awarded the famous three-handled trophy known simply as the Scottish Football League Cup. However, during the 1980s when Skol lager sponsored the competition, a second trophy known simply as the "Skol Cup" was awarded concurrent to the first trophy. During the 1987–88 competition when Rangers won their third Skol Cup, they were given permanent possession of this trophy and a new "Skol Cup" with a slightly different design was introduced the following season.
Until 1995, the winners of the Scottish League Cup were granted a place in the UEFA Cup although this privilege was rarely invoked as the winning teams usually qualified for Europe by some other means such as winning the League Championship or Scottish Cup. The most recent example was Raith Rovers who represented Scotland in the 1995–96 UEFA Cup after winning the League Cup the previous season as a First Division club. This privilege has since been discontinued due to the reduction in the number of European places granted to Scottish clubs.
Scottish League Cup matches are currently shown live by BBC Scotland on their Sportscene strand and also UK-wide on the BBC Red Button, though the final is not available via the red button. They are also shown live in Ireland by Setanta Ireland or Setanta Sports 1. Both Setanta Ireland and BBC Scotland show the final live. In Australia the Scottish League Cup is broadcast by Setanta Sports Australia. The 2009 Scottish League Cup Final was shown live on SBS due to a fixture clash on Setanta.
From the 2016–17 edition, the Scottish League Cup rights have been awarded to BT Sport following the new format announcement. BT Sport will screen six group stage matches throughout July and seven matches from the knockout stages including both semi-finals and the final itself.
-  SPFL. 7 December 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
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- "Scottish League Cup: Energy firm Utilita agree sponsorship deal". BBC Sport. BBC. 14 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2015.