Out of Bounds: Will the Bills suffer the same fate as the SuperSonics?

Times have been tough for Buffalo Bills fans who, since being on the wrong side of the Music City Miracle in 1999, have experienced just one winning season and barely even the scent of a playoff hunt.

Now, as things finally begin to look up on the field - the Bills have started the season 4-0, the first time since the AFC Champion team of 1992 - the fans have another thing to worry about off the field.

Over the next five years, Buffalo will play one home game each season at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, starting Dec. 7 against Miami. They are also scheduled for three preseason games in Toronto: the first took place against Pittsburgh on Aug. 14. The deal inks the Bills $78 million overall, or $9.75 million a game.

That means each game brings the Bills nearly a quarter of their annual gate receipts. Though the Bills claim this is merely an economic move that extends the NFL's commitment to international growth, there is cause for concern.

Currently Forbes.com ranks Buffalo as the 27th most profitable team out of the 32 in the league. With the constantly shrinking Western New York economy, the only reason the team has been able to stay competitive is the undeniable zeal of their fans.

Yet fan passion can only go so far, and owner Ralph Wilson has been complaining about the size of the market for years now. Wilson has no intent to move the team while he is alive - he is now 90 years old - but the team will be sold once he dies.

In the Buffalo area, there is hope that the team will become community owned, but the NFL currently only allows the Green Bay Packers to be managed that way. In a league not known for its compromises, it is likely the team will go to the highest bidder. If the market keeps shrinking, the Bills and their aging stadium could be in serious trouble under new management.

In the meantime Toronto, Canada's biggest market, sits just 90 minutes away, with an NFL-ready stadium and an appetite for football.

If the Bills eventually do leave, they will be continuing the trend in professional sports of packing up shop and starting fresh. The most recent example is the Seattle Supersonics, who moved to Oklahoma City this year after being sold in 2006. Fortunately for the fans of Seattle, the city is committed to bringing basketball back to the city, something that may not be possible in Buffalo.

Seattle, which owns the arena the Sonics played in, sued the new owners for moving the team before the contract ended and won a $45 million dollar settlement that grants the city rights to the name "Supersonics." The deal also gives them more money if no NBA team returns by 2013. Seattle will at least be rewarded financially for their losses.

The Bills' lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium, however, ends in 2013 and the team has the ability to opt out of the contract at any time. Thus, the city of Buffalo will see no such compensation, making it even harder to entice future suitors.

If the Bills do leave Buffalo, the fear then switches to the Sabres' ability to remain. If Buffalo's only major sports team becomes an NHL franchise, how long is it until the city starts to look like Hartford, or Winnipeg? Everyone knows the Sabres have the best fans in the league, but the Whalers and the Jets had equally strong fan bases, and have already faded into obscurity.

So keep an eye out, fans, because if these games in Toronto turn out to be more than an experiment, it could spell doom for Buffalo.