SPFL to launch new League Cup format and winter break

Celtic League Cup winners 2015
Scottish champions Celtic also won the League Cup in 2015

Scottish football will next season launch a revamped League Cup with a group stage and bonus-point system.

The Scottish Professional Football League will also reintroduce a two-week winter break in January.

A new television deal has been agreed with BT Sport, worth in the region of £8m to Scottish clubs over four years.

"The new format marks an exciting new chapter for the competition," said SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster.

"It sees Scottish football leading the way with a number of innovations."

The group stage will involve all 38 teams not involved in European competition, plus the winners of the Highland League and Lowland League.

There will be eight groups of five teams playing each other once in a round-robin format, to take place across five July dates (16, 20, 23, 27 and 30) and will use the traditional three points for a win and one point for a draw model.

However, in what the SPFL believes will be a first in world football, all drawn matches will go straight to a penalty shoot-out, with the winner awarded a bonus point.

Eight group winners and the four best runners-up progress to the second round, when they are joined by the four clubs competing in Europe, and revert to a traditional knockout format.

The old Scottish Premier League had a winter break from the 1998-99 season until 2002-2003, but the new set-up will allow for the reintroduction of a two-week break for Premiership clubs in January 2017.

"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," said Doncaster.

"We are consulting with Ladbrokes Championship, League one and League two clubs to establish whether they also favour a winter break in their respective divisions."

BBC Scotland senior football reporter Chris McLaughlin
"There must be a recognition that the new format is a valiant effort by those at the top to inject some much needed interest and keep things fresh.
"The new league format suggests an obvious financial benefit for clubs who often find themselves out of the competition at the early stages, but the cash will only flow if fans show an appetite.
"The new earlier start also sees Scottish football dip a tentative toe into the waters of summer football. That, along with a winter break, has been on fans' wish lists for some time. It seems those at the top were listening."

Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan told BBC Scotland he was in favour of an earlier start and winter break.

"I think there's an acceptance that there needs to be some degree of change. Something has to be done to try to deal with fixture congestion.

"Our bigger clubs are keen to ensure they can be competitive in Europe and we need to consider their needs as well in making sure they are as prepared as they possibly can be going into European fixtures."

Celtic are the current holders of the League Cup, and continue their defence against Ross County in the semi-final in January, with Championship side Hibernian facing St Johnstone.