NEIL DONCASTER, the chief executive of the Scottish Professional Football League, asked for patience last night as Scotland's top flight enters its second season without a title sponsor.
Doncaster had one new backer to announce yesterday when Petrofac Training Services took over from Ramsdens as the name behind the Challenge Cup. The deal, for one year with a further one-year option, is worth more than the previous six-figure contract with Ramsdens.
But Doncaster and the league have faced scrutiny and criticism since November 2011, when it was announced that Clydesdale Bank would end its sponsorship of the top flight at the end of the 2012/13 season. The league governing body has yet to land a successor.
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"We are one day closer to the next sponsor that we announce," said Doncaster when asked whether a deal was close for the leagues. "We are working hard to make sure we maximise the opportunities that are there for all our clubs. We have several warm conversations going on with potential sponsors and this [Petrofac] was the first one to have landed.
"Last year we distributed £17.5m to clubs and we expect to increase those distributions this year irrespective of what happens with league sponsorship. I'm comfortable that we are doing everything we can. I'm certainly hopeful we will have something to announce."
The view of Doncaster and the SPFL board, and previously that of the Scottish Premier League board, is that it is better for the league to go without a sponsor than to agree a deal just for the sake of it with a commercial partner which may not be entirely satisfactory. When asked if that was the view of all 42 clubs, he said: "We have regular meetings with the board. We have regular meetings with the 42 clubs. Each club has a slightly different view."
Since it was created in 1990 the Challenge Cup has been sponsored by B&Q, Bell's, ALBA and Ramsdens, and it will now be known as the Petrofac Training Cup. The inclusion of Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian will make the 2014/15 competition the most intriguing in the cup's short history. "I cannot go into the terms of the deal we have reached with Petrofac Training Services but I can say it is on enhanced terms to the deal that was in place with Ramsdens," said Doncaster.
He declined to say whether the inclusion of three of the country's biggest clubs had given the league a far stronger bargaining position with potential sponsors. "It would be disrespectful to everyone involved, including the new sponsor, to say that. However, I can say that we are happy with the deal."
Petrofac Training Services is based in Aberdeen but operates across Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia, providing safety, survival and emergency response training courses for the offshore industry. "We are thrilled to be putting our name to the Petrofac Training Cup, when it looks to be the most exciting competition for years," said Lawrence Milne, the company's head of business development.
The draw for the first round ties - to be played on Saturday, July 26 - will be held at Easter Road today. The draw will include all Championship, League 1 and League 2 teams as well as Brora Rangers and Spartans, the Highland and Lowland League champions respectively. The first round ties will be regionalised and Rangers' fixture will be postponed because of the Commonwealth Games and rescheduled for an alternative date to be confirmed by the SPFL.