The AFL last week released its annual report showing a deficit of $23.6m – its first loss in a decade – and a fall in remuneration for chief executive Andrew Demetriou.

Demetriou’s pay fell from $2.2m in 2010 to $1.8m for 2011. This $400,000 difference can be attributed to the triggering of a one-off retention bonus payment in 2010.

That $400,000 loyalty payment is probably the best investment the AFL has ever made, It is under his stewardship that the AFL has become the leading sporting organisation in the country and pound for pound, one of the most successful in the world.

Despite the loss last year – attributable to the huge investment in Gold Coast and GWS, so hardly worrying stuff – the AFL had record revenue of $343m and an operating surplus of $234 million.

The other “metrics” are all very positive too. There were record levels of participation in the game (791,178, up from 751,015 in 2010), record club memberships (650,373 from 614,251 in 2010) and the average attendance rose to 34,893 putting the AFL in the top four in the professional sporting world, an amazing achievement given it is not even the dominant code in the most populous state.

The question now is where to for the league, and where to for Demetriou?

In terms of the broader AFL direction, the man himself laid out the broad brush strokes in an interview with the Murdoch press. Having secured all the big ticket items, now is the time to put the head down and make sure it all works according to plan.

“We have flagged that this is a year of consolidation. We have brought in two new clubs, we have a CBA, we have done the broadcast deal, we have re-signed all our sponsors. We have done all our big deals,” he explained.

“Now we have to look after the existing clubs and help them get some control over their debt.”

It is fair to assume that this year of consolidation will actually stretch to three. The funding agreement for the clubs states explicitly that things will be reviewed after three years.

The league has essentially given the smaller clubs three years of unqualified support to be assessed again in 2014. If clubs can’t show progress in that time, then the AFL will most likely use the opportunity to step in at some level.

This doesn’t mean that clubs will be killed off or allowed to go under. That’s never happening again. The whole long-term strategy relies on there being 18 teams. But just because there’s 18 teams in the strategy doesn’t automatically mean there’ll be the same 18 teams.

It’s quite possible that one day a club will accept an AFL offer along the lines of what they pitched to North Melbourne to move to the Gold Coast. Thus, it is entirely plausible to see a situation where a Melbourne club that hasn’t kicked on – despite all the AFL assistance – decides to take up an offer to merge with one of the fledging clubs, thus making way for a dedicated Tasmanian team.

But all that is a long way down the track. For now, the league is trying to get the pillows suitably fluffed on the bed it has made for itself.

What of Demetriou himself?

Will he be there in 2014 when the next fulcrum point for change arrives? And if he isn’t, what will he be doing instead?

It is easy to see why he’d want to move on. Demetriou is universally admired, if not liked, for what he has achieved in his time as CEO.

He’s made the AFL the undisputed beast of Australian sport. The ultimate compliment is flattery and it is under his tenure that we’ve seen the NRL consciously mimicking the way the AFL goes about its business.

He’s also got an unrivalled contacts book across politics, business and the media. He’s shown he can do the hard-headed big ticket deals like the TV rights; he boasts a deft but highly effective feel for
industrial relations and crucially, he possesses the kind of innate understanding of how major organisations need to lead on social issues.

Having tied up long-term deals with all the major stakeholders of the competition – the TV rights, the CBA and the funding deal with the clubs – he could well ask himself where the next challenge is coming from.

On a personal level, now would be an opportune moment for change too. He turns 51 in April. He has a young family with his second wife but would seem to be a long way from putting his career on the backburner to become a dedicated house husband and father.

Indeed, he’s got a perfect ten-year window to take up another role or challenge before retiring in
his early 60s. A decade with another organisation is the perfect timeframe to really leave a legacy but what kind of organisation, and what kind of role?

As a man who had already built considerable wealth before taking up his current well-paid role, Demetriou won’t be driven by financial concerns when plotting his next move.

He has grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle and will want to maintain that but he’s not going
to be desperately chasing dollars. He has what the ultimate benefit of wealth brings, choice.

Demetriou would certainly find himself in high demand if he chose to enter the corporate sector, but would this be the best fit for him? He initially made his money as an entrepreneur and his last two jobs have been as a chief executive officer.

It is hard to see Demetriou accepting a “second banana” role at a major corporation. And it is equally difficult to see a company of the stature that would attract one of the most important figures in the country – and he is – offering him the top job straight away. He can thank Eddie McGuire for that one.

A more likely option for Demetriou is the voluntary sector. The AFL is after all a not-for-profit organisation and Demetriou has always placed huge value on grass-roots engagement.

He’s also very strong on social issues and has many admirers for his stances on respect for women, indigenous issues and even drug use among players. He even showed himself willing to take on a Howard-led government that favoured a punitive approach to drugs where Demetriou preferred to adopt a harm reduction model.

Heading up a major voluntary sector organisation would provide an excellent fit for Demetriou’s skillset. The pay would be down on what he currently earns but also enough to keep him in chocolate éclairs. It also chimes with, as mentioned above, the undeniable sense about the man of a desire to change things in society for the better.

Which leads us to the final (and in my view the most likely) option for a post-AFL Demetriou career – politics.

It has long been whispered in footy circles that Demetriou harbours political ambitions. Whether he’d ever act on them is another matter.

The current suggestion is that Demetriou has his eye on the Federal seat of Melbourne, standing on the ALP ticket. Labor lost what had previously been thought of as an impenetrable stronghold to the Greens’ Adam Bandt at the 2010 election.

Would Demetriou win Melbourne? Most likely yes.

Would he stand at the next election? Unless he fancies a period in opposition, no.

However, politics, like football, is a funny game. It is highly unlikely that Labor, under any leader, will win the next election. But after that election you can be sure another leader will be elected, with Bill Shorten the logical choice.

Would Demetriou run for Melbourne in a 2015 election with Shorten as leader and the promise of a Cabinet post if Labor won? That sounds far more plausible.

Demetriou is already better qualified to run a major ministry than most cabinet Ministers from either side of politics.

I doubt he’d ever be PM but he’d be a good operator and his experience across a range of policy issues would make him a useful voice in the party room. Something tells me he’d enjoy the rough and tumble of parliament too.

The timings work perfectly. Demetriou stays on at the AFL until the three-year funding plan review, implements that as his parting gift, takes a year off to refresh and bang, onto the green benches.

Even if Labor were not to win the 2015 election, recent political conditions in this country indicate that it would be worth hanging around to see what happens in a few years’ time.

This is of course merely speculation.

Demetriou may have plans to stay forever but I doubt it. Not only does he seem to be the kind of personality who thrives on new challenges but the AFL Commission is composed of the kind of individuals who recognise that even a well run business needs fresh ideas to maintain momentum.

If and when Demetriou does decide to leave, expect the process to be handled with his trademark professionalism. There’ll be no long drawn-out speculation and scrutiny, just a press conference called one afternoon where he announces his decision and strides out of the room, leaving the rest of us wondering how he managed to keep it so well hidden.