Corporate sports hospitality has an unfortunate reputation, with rogue companies offering packages that have turned out to be outside the actual venue and then disappearing without paying refunds.
Last year Alliance Racing Club Ltd went out of business, leaving clients who’d bought hospitality for the Cheltenham Festival and other events in the lurch. Which brings me to hospitality outfit Pavilius.
First, I should say that I have not received any complaints about it – though that might be because the events for which it is selling tickets have yet to take place.
One of the addresses it gives is in West Regent Street, Glasgow, in the same building as the disastrous Alliance Racing Club, and I should also point out that this is a business centre with multiple occupants so this could just be coincidence.
But I do have some concerns, such as the claim on pavilius.co.uk that it has been trading since 2010 and “We are recognised as a premiere hospitality partner for the UK’s favourite sporting events”.
The company number on the website is for Pavilius UK Limited, which was only incorporated last March. The website also uses the name Pavilius Hospitality, and the limited company of this name was only incorporated last February and has applied to Companies House to be struck off.
I emailed expressing an interest in next month’s Cheltenham Festival and a sales rep called Paul Hardman phoned me back and said I could have a 30-seat package, reduced from £17,970 to £11,970 thanks to a cancellation. This would include "a four course silver service lunch, full traditional afternoon tea and complimentary drinks package".
This, I was assured, was an official deal with trackside seats, “so you really are in the heart of the action”.
Then came the hard sell. Paul Hardman said that there were four different sales teams across the country selling the same discounted package: "If you are serious about the saving we would need to get you booked in straight away so you didn't miss out".
When I hesitated he asked what was holding me back. That was simple: I hadn't yet seen the terms and conditions. The T&Cs section of the Pavilius website is strangely blank.
Hardman told me that they would be sent out with the booking form if I confirmed that I wanted the package. Which is no way to do business. I wanted to see those conditions before confirming anything. Somewhat reluctantly he agreed to email them.
When they arrived I saw one clause that worryingly stated that, far from a guaranteed trackside view, the company “makes no warranties as to the proximity to the event of the facility provided”.
And despite the verbal assurance that this was an official package, another clause stated: “The customer acknowledges and accepts that Pavilius (UK) Ltd has not made and does not make any representations that it is in any way associated or affiliated with the organisers of the event or any events or any other organisations.”
In a follow-up call Mr Hardman repeated the claim that this was an official deal, adding the astonishing assertion that it is only thanks to marketing companies like his that the hugely-popular Festival sells out.
"It's official hospitality, yes," he said. "The way it works, there's an in-house team on site at Cheltenham but to be honest with you if it wasn't for agents like us they wouldn't sell out the facilities, because there's that much hospitality to sell, we basically get an allocation to sell, it's a big open plan restaurant area.
"Just to reassure you as this is the first time you've used us, this is an official hospitality package, it's inside the race course by the Guinness grandstand, I'll put that on the booking form if and when you're booking it.
"But this cancellation is on the system, we have four sales branches up and down the UK that will have access to it and it is getting sold first come first served. Would you like to take five minutes to secure it now? It's by far the best price you'll get for Cheltenham."
Far from being official, Cheltenham Racecourse says it has never heard of Pavilius.
“We know nothing about this particular hospitality package being offered for The Festival presented by Magners in March," said a spokesman.
“Anyone who wishes to book hospitality for The Festival should do so either directly through Cheltenham Racecourse or by contacting Event Masters or Event International, our two official hospitality suppliers.
“Anyone who buys hospitality through any other third party does so at their own risk and their bookings cannot be guaranteed.”
Royal Ascot and tennis at Wimbledon are also featured on the Pavilius website, which is also offering golf fans tickets to The Open at Royal St George’s in July.
The official theopen.com website names it as a company that is not a partner, saying: “We strongly advise all fans to carry out due diligence prior to purchasing any hospitality following any unsolicited approaches.”
Warning signs are:
I asked Pavilius’s sole director Stewart Lang, 33, to comment and heard back from sales rep Paul Hardman who said that Mr Lang was not available. He added: “I’m willing to have a chat with you to address all points on condition that this is strictly off the record.”
Which is a strange condition to want because it makes it impossible for me to put their side of the story.