The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) is the national men's association football league in Scotland. The league was formed in June 2013 following a merger between the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League. As well as operating its league competition, which consists of the top four levels of the Scottish football league system, the SPFL also operates two domestic cup competitions, the Scottish League Cup and the Scottish Challenge Cup.
A Scottish football league system was first created in 1890, when the Scottish Football League (SFL) was formed. Traditionally the league had a two divisional structure (Divisions One and Two) between which clubs were promoted and relegated at the end of each season. By the mid-1970s, this organisation was perceived to be stagnant, and it was decided to split into a three divisional structure: Premier Division (formerly Division One), First Division (formerly Division Two) and a newly added Second Division. This system came into force for the 1975–76 season. This setup continued until the 1994–95 season, when a four divisional structure was introduced, along with a new Third Division, with all four divisions consisting of ten clubs.
On 8 September 1997, the Premier Division clubs decided to split from the Scottish Football League and form the Scottish Premier League (SPL), following the example of the English Premier League. This decision was fuelled by a desire by the top clubs in Scotland to control more of the revenue generated by the game and to negotiate its contracts with sponsors and broadcasters. SFL revenues had been divided proportionally between clubs in all four divisions. The SPL clubs retained all of its commercial revenues, except for an annual payment to the SFL and a parachute payment to any relegated clubs.
Scottish football began to think about changing its structures again in the late 2000s, as Scottish clubs and national teams were struggling in international competition and revenues were being greatly outgrown by the neighbouring English Premier League. A review, led by former First Minister of Scotland Henry McLeish, was conducted by the Scottish Football Association and its report was published in December 2010. McLeish recommended that Scottish football should have a single league body and that the top flight should be reduced to 10 clubs. The proposal to change the top flight numbers did not proceed because of opposition from four SPL clubs, with only two needed to block any change of that nature.
Talks continued about the proposed league merger. A proposal for a merged league body with a 12–12–18 structure was advanced in April 2013. This plan failed when two SPL clubs (Ross County and St Mirren) voted against. The SPL clubs unanimously agreed a revised merger plan a few weeks later, which would retain the same league structure and redistribute more revenues to second tier clubs. The SFL submitted a counter-proposal allowing for more revenues to be given to third and fourth tier clubs, but this was rejected by the SPL, who stuck with the plan agreed by their clubs. An indicative vote of SFL clubs in May suggested that the SPL plan would be formally rejected. Some of the First Division (second tier) clubs threatened to break away from the SFL and form an "SPL2" (SPL second division). The SPL suggested it would welcome the First Division clubs if they decided to leave the SFL. A formal vote of SFL clubs was taken on 12 June. 23 clubs voted in favour, one more than was needed for the proposal to succeed. The merger was formally agreed on 28 June and football was first played under the new structure in the 2013–14 season.
On 24 July 2013 the names of the four SPFL divisions were announced – Scottish Premiership, Scottish Championship, Scottish League One and Scottish League Two. The merger was criticised by Alex Anderson of When Saturday Comes as bringing further uncertainty to Scottish football, holding the belief that the semi-professional clubs in the lower divisions will be put into a future regional structure.
The SPFL is operated as a corporation and is owned by the 42 member clubs. Each club is a shareholder, with each having a vote on issues such as rule changes and contracts. The clubs elect a six-man board of directors to oversee the daily operations of the league. The board of directors in turn appoint a Chief Executive. Neil Doncaster became the SPFL's first Chief Executive in July 2013, after beating David Longmuir to the role. The board of directors is composed of eight members, who are elected at the company's annual general meeting,
Listed below are the 42 member clubs of the SPFL for the 2016–17 season.
The Scottish Professional Football League kept the promotion/relegation playoff tournaments between Scottish Football League divisions done since 2005, adding a playoff tournament to the Championship from its inception and a tournament between League Two and the Highland Football League and Lowland Football League in the 2014–15 season.
One of the reasons given for the merger was the belief that it would help to attract title sponsorship to Scottish league football; contracts between the SPL and Clydesdale Bank and the SFL and Irn-Bru expired in 2013. In October 2013, the SPFL announced a partnership with Irn-Bru, making it the league's official soft drink. Neil Doncaster stated that the SPFL would continue to seek sponsorship for the league and the Scottish League Cup. After two seasons without a main sponsor, a two-year agreement was reached with bookmaker Ladbrokes in May 2015.
The SPFL inherited media rights arrangements with Sky Sports and BT Sport. It emerged in May 2014 that the SPFL had repaid part of the agreed contract due to the additional costs incurred by the broadcasters in covering Rangers matches at lower division grounds. In September 2015, the SPFL announced that it had extended its agreements with Sky and BT to the end of the 2019–20 season on "improved terms". On 2 November 2013 the SPFL agreed a £20 million deal with Chinese network PPLive TV to show 58 live games a season for 10 years.