Sept. 22--When Sands Bethlehem Event Center was being built nearly two years ago, its organizers were already thinking about what lay beyond.
They were figuring how entertainment could be delivered to far more people than the center's capacity of 3,500. And how that would let the center compete for top entertainers.
So they wired the center to allow state-of-the-art, professional-quality recording of every event -- be it a concert, boxing match or stage production.
Now, 16 months after the event center at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened, it will stream its first pay-per-view event with the potential to reach 80 million viewers in 150 countries on the Internet.
"This is a great and progressive step for the Sands to stream live events," said Geoff Gordon, regional president of Live Nation Philadelphia, which does bookings for the event center. "It has the ability to transport a fan to a venue anywhere in the world to see their favorite band or entertainer. And bringing that to Sands is a great way to show the world what kind of premier entertainment center there is in Bethlehem."
On Thursday, the event center will offer "Legends of Boxing," a live, seven-fight card topped by welterweights Ronald Cruz and Alberto Morales, with commentary and interviews by former champs such as Larry Holmes, via the video streaming service Ustream.
The program, which will cost $4.99 to tap, will be beamed through Universal Streaming Network, a company the event center's partners created and put on the Ustream framework.
Event center officials hope it will be the start of aggressive pay-per-view programming that makes the venue the first to routinely stream its shows. Madison Square Garden in New York and the Las Vegas casinos offer fights or occasional concerts for online pay-per-views, as do other venues, but none offers virtually all shows.
"It's the first relationship of its kind that's integrated with a venue to that degree," said Joellen Ferrer, Ustream's director of communications.
Not only will the service let audiences watch live events at the center, but also ones from the past. The event center has recorded most of what it has done since opening May 16, 2012, and has a library of 120 events. Viewing from that catalog will be available for as little as 99 cents per view.
The setup also will enable the event center to market performances to target audiences. For example, it can promote shows by comedian Gabriel Iglesias and singer Shakira to viewers in Latin America, said Jeff Trainer, another event center partner.
"We're going after business all around the world," he said.
Richard Welkowitz, a Lancaster real estate magnate and one of three partners in Vision Entertainment, which owns the event center, said the idea grew from the realization that the venue would draw high-end entertainment that people beyond Bethlehem would pay to see.
The partners wondered, "How could we allow many, many people to see concerts and favorable programming?" he said. "How do we make our facility in Bethlehem bigger than it is?"
Events shown on cable television can carry costs of more than $50 for the viewer, making them unaffordable to many. Welkowitz said he thought he could "make talent accessible to the masses" using the power of the Internet and the philosophy of Ray Croc, who made McDonald's a fast-food giant: "Give people a good product at a reasonable price."
With shows like Motley Crue, blink 182 and the Backstreet Boys, Welkowitz knew the event center had the product. For the reasonable price, he and his partners turned to Ustream, which had grown significantly since starting in 2007 and made a big impact in Europe and Asia.
"Celebrities use it to talk to their fans," said Andrea Kenney, Trainer's project manager. "They have a good reputation and a big following," with nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter and a half-million followers on Facebook.